GE Works: Inspiration Behind an Extremely Surprising MR System
Pete Roemer, GE Healthcare Chief Technology Officer at Specialty MR.
Pete Roemer is currently the GE Healthcare Chief Technology Officer at Specialty MR, based in Wilmington, Massachusetts. Pete and his team developed the world’s first 1.5T specialty MR scanner used to scan targeted anatomy, such as an arm or a leg. This system, which was the basis for the GE Optima* MR430s focuses on patient comfort while maintaining high image quality. The scanner allows patients to sit comfortably outside the bore in a reclining chair while their arm or leg gets scanned. The product was recently featured at a GE Works event in Washington DC.
What inspired you to create such a unique and different product?
“My inspiration was the work I did at GE as Manager of their longer range R&D in MRI at GE’s corporate R&D center. There was a tremendous explosion of MRI technology advancements in the late 80’s and early 90’s. MRI became known as the most expensive technology but also one of the most important diagnostic tools. As the technology matured, there was no clear path to lower cost…in fact just the opposite was true. Each technological advancement applied to the whole body system increased the cost and complexity. Everyone paid for the feature even if it was rarely used.”
“In the late 90’s, the idea of specialization was not embraced by the major manufacturers. Their interest was rooted in the expensive general purpose systems. I had reached a point in my career where I felt I had gained enough experience that I should try to pursue this mission by starting a company. The vision was a family of dedicated systems.”
A bit of background on the start-up company
Pete teamed up with Robert Kwolyk, a former GE employee with a background in sales and marketing, to develop a specialized system. The gap in the product offerings in the market provided Pete and Robert with the opportunity to create something specialized that would have clear customer and patient benefits. They recruited an initial team of 15 people from the surrounding suburbs of Boston with backgrounds ranging from MR physics to software to electrical to regulatory to get working on their vision. The company eventually grew to roughly 60 people once they added service, manufacturing, sales, marketing and finance.
Almost 15 years have passed since you left GE to pursue specialized MR. Now the Optima* MR430s has been launched globally! How is the product doing commercially?
“Our current problem is that we can’t make enough of the systems!The demand has challenged our manufacturing capability so we are ramping up production to meet the needs in the marketplace for spare parts and new systems.Behind the scenes, there is tremendous support from all functions in GE. We have been growing the team here in Wilmington as the product demand accelerates. These results just validate the acceptance in the markets for a specialized product like this—that’s what I anticipated when I started developing this product.”
This is a different type of MRI scanner; it’s not what customers and patients are used to. What has the reaction been so far to this different imaging approach?
“The general public gets it. When a patient sees the system it is self-evident that specialization makes sense. “Why put your whole body in a large magnet just to image a hand or knee,”is the typical reaction. The other advantage is less of a chance a patient will feel claustrophobic. Relative to hospitals and imaging centers there are multiple reasons a customer will decide to purchase (our equipment). Our system is an opportunity to offload a whole body system opening up more slots (in the hospital agenda). In many cases the customer sees the opportunity for a unique patient experience that they can market to their local community and referring physicians. Our imaging system works particularly well for the upper extremity and this is often another reason to purchase. “
What excites you the most about specialized scanners? What was your drive to create this unique offering that was totally different from other systems in the market?
“As an engineer I get enjoyment about building something new but seeing these products in widespread use is a greater feeling of accomplishment and excitement. I was driven by the idea that specialization of the MRI system would make MRI more affordable and accessible to more and more people. Specializing untied the engineer’s hands to do just one thing well and at a much lower cost.”
More about Pete and the Optima* MR430s
Pete came up with the idea for a specialized scanner back in the late 1990s; he saw a gap in the MR market for a specialized system that would benefit patients and help customers save cost and streamline musculoskeletal scans. Pete cofounded the company, ONI Medical Systems, in Wilmington, Massachusetts with a team of skilled engineers and scientists. They developed the first generation specialized scanner before being acquired by GE in 2009. Now the Optima MR430s is available for sale globally.
Pete and the Optima* MR430s are just one example of the many innovations coming from GE. The Optima MR430s is helping to improve patient comfort and providing a new offering to customers around the world. Pete and the team in Wilmington are the people behind the product that show why GE works.
About the “What Works” event
The "What Works" DC event was the first in a series of opportunities inspired by GE Works and intended as a time for GE to connect with stakeholders—customers, suppliers, public officials or other GE partners—in various locations around the world. This week’s four-day event in Washington D.C. brought together more than 65 leaders and thousands of DC-area stakeholders to discuss topics relevant to the US economic environment: American Manufacturing; Innovation; Global Competitiveness and Workforce, Veterans and Reservists.
Employees were a key component of this event. They put a face to all of the innovation and industry taking place across the company and the country. Hear Pete, one of GEHC’s own, tell his story of innovation—how the Optima MR430s came to life.
The GE team thought of inventive new ways to introduce their product to the general public.