Device a breakthrough for ultrasound, says Bothell maker

BOTHELL — It’s such a revolutionary product advancement for health care that Gov. Jay Inslee made a special visit to see it — and it is manufactured here in Snohomish County.

Philips Healthcare debuted its EPIQ ultrasound system at the 2013 European Society of Cardiology Congress in Amsterdam in August.

Ultrasound equipment is most often associated with prenatal applications but it is also used to check for vascular issues, heart defects, aortic aneurisms and more.

“EPIQ is the future of advanced ultrasound developed for cardiology, radiology/general imaging, and obstetrics and gynecology” said Conrad Smits, general manager of Philips Ultrasound. “It was developed and is manufactured in Bothell because of the rich engineering and ultrasound expertise that exists in this region.”

The EPIQ product line is much easier to use than the previous generation of ultrasound equipment and features a more intuitive operating system.

It is suitable for a range of users, from novice to expert. For health care providers that translates to lower healthcare costs.

EPIQ is also significantly faster than other systems, can penetrate better and has enhanced image quality. That is a benefit for patients and can mean a quicker and possibly more accurate diagnosis, especially for those who are more difficult to image due to issues such as a weight.

“EPIQ is an example of the latest and greatest of everything we’ve learned over the years,” said Matt Holttum, director of system operations for Philips Healthcare Bothell.*

Philips’ initial systems were large and unwieldy by today’s standards. They were also extremely technical. Although the size has been reduced over time and each generation improved, current units still require a higher level of knowledge and training for operation.

The EPIQ system is a different and more user friendly product. It has a tablet-like interface as well as standard controls for the operator.

A new technology called Anatomical Intelligence — a data base of anatomic structural models that provides advanced organ modeling and image slicing — results in more definitive clinical results. EPIQ also uses nSIGHT Imaging technology. It’s a new way to form highly detailed ultrasound images with better and more detailed penetration.

This ultrasound system is near silent when running and features a lightweight and extremely maneuverable cart for fast and easy deployment in any health care setting. This is important as ultrasound is a vital diagnostic tool that is used in many medical areas from cardiology units to prenatal clinics.

The EPIQ ultrasound systems are now in production at Philips Healthcare Bothell. The Bothell plant is the global sales and service headquarters for Philips Healthcare North America. With nearly 1,800 workers, it is one of the largest employers in Snohomish County.

Nearly 1,200 Philips Bothell employees are specifically assigned to ultrasound production. The remainder are employed in sales or in the manufacture of automated external defibrillators or AEDs, other diagnostic products and oral healthcare products.

Currently there are two models in the EPIQ line — the EPIQ 7 and the EPIQ 5. The company is still in the process of getting EPIQ released on a global scale. It is already cleared for use in most countries with a few other major markets, such as China, still pending. Each EPIQ product is built to order. Philips declined to say how many of these models they expect to sell each year.

“On this particular product line, it takes us four days to complete the customer’s product once we start it,” Holttum said. “Depending on where the customer is at, they usually will have their order within seven to 14 days from the time we receive it.”

That delivery frame is in line with most customers’ expectations, he explained. Because it is a portable product, customers expect to get it much more quickly than larger imaging products that are built into special treatment rooms.

For higher efficiency and fast production, the EPIQ production line is built on a lean manufacturing concept. For over a year before the first product rolled off the production line, Philips’ research and development team worked in tandem with the production team in order to ensure top efficiency for the build.

Every item on the production chain has its own designated space, from parts in the easy-to-reach bins to worker’s tools on the workbench. Each employee has a standard work sequence to perform and each is empowered to set up his or her workstation to maximize their efficiency and accuracy.

There are also a limited number of devices in production on the floor at any one time. This is for greater visibility and a better chance of catching any abnormalities.

“We want something to stand out if it is out of order or unusual so that we can take corrective action,” Holttum said. “A lot of people think of lean manufacturing as taking the cost out of your product, which it is. But it also means taking the variability out and taking out potential defects so it improves the customer experience.”

Once completed, the products are tested by in-house health care professionals before they are released to the customers. These same health care professionals also worked with the research and development team on the EPIQ product advancements.

“With EPIQ we partnered with clinicians to create an ultrasound that addresses their biggest challenges,” Smits said. “Philips is committed to creating the future of healthcare and saving lives and we’re doing this by innovating in ways that matter to our customers and their patients.”

Correction, Nov. 25, 2013: Matt Holttum is the director of system operations for Philips Healthcare Bothell. His name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

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