Chris Cone

Provinicial wisdom states: Teams that work well together, stay together. Such is the groundwork of the recently founded ultrasound electronics repair company, Echoserve (Golden, Colo). Having worked together over the years for various companies, the Echoserve’s founders decided to branch out on their own. 24×7 recently spoke with the company’s president, Chris Cone, about the changing face of the industry and the company’s past, present, and future.

24×7: Tell me a little bit about the company’s origins.

Cone: Echoserve was founded in August 2005. The principals of the company met 10 years ago when they worked at Vicor Corp, a major supplier of electronic components to manufacturers of diagnostic ultrasound equipment. Most recently, the founders worked together at Sonora Medical Systems, an ultrasound equipment dealer located in Colorado. The company was established to provide depot part repair and exchange services to companies in the ultrasound industry.

24×7: What makes Echoserve different from other companies who offer similar services?

Cone: Echoserve has broad ultrasound electronics repair capability that allows the company to consistently provide dealers and end-users with replacement parts at repair prices. The company’s extensive repair capabilities include analog and digital printed circuit-board assemblies, probe/system communication electronics, and user interfaces (such as keyboards, trackballs, and monitors). Echoserve also has made a significant investment in inventory to support common systems in the installed base. The combination of high-value parts, technical expertise, and broad repair capability make Echoserve a valuable resource to the diagnostic ultrasound community.

24×7: What are a few trends in diagnostic ultrasound? How are these trends affecting BMETs?

Cone: There are a few high-level trends that are profoundly impacting the diagnostic ultrasound market and BMETs supporting ultrasound equipment. The first is the consolidation of the market into a few major players. The fact that the market is increasingly dominated by three companies impacts BMETs in a number of ways, including field service training, part sourcing, and service-contract pricing. On the positive side for BMETs, the consolidation of the market has reduced the total number of distinct system platforms on which a BMET requires service training. However, the pricing for replacement parts and service contracts is increasing as these major companies exercise power on the marketplace.

The next major trend is the networking of medical devices—including ultrasound machines—in the health care environment. The proliferation of radiology PACS and hospital HIS/RIS systems requires service technicians to be experts on the devices themselves, as well as to have a higher level of capability in information technology than they’ve needed in the past. A service engineer from one of the major OEMs recently told me that over half of his ultrasound service calls now involve an issue relating to the PACS network. I don’t see this trend reversing. If anything, the impact of networking and data sharing will have an even greater impact on BMETs in the future.

A third major trend in ultrasound is the “miniaturization” of ultrasound systems and the continued integration of ultrasound-system electronics. For example, the hand-carried ultrasound continues to gain acceptance in the market. These handheld machines have a very high level of integration associated with the system electronics, making repair difficult—if not impossible—to do in the field. Similarly, the latest cart-based systems are PC-based machines that utilize a high degree of integrated digital electronics. In general, these machines are harder to service and repair than older machines because the newer equipment depends heavily on software. Without experience with and access to this software, service and repair of the newest equipment can be very difficult.

24×7: How does Echoserve plan to accommodate the changes? Where do you see the company in 5 years?

Cone: First and probably most obvious, Echoserve will focus on supporting equipment from the three major OEMs. Next, we are investing in the development of strong in-house software talent. The ability to support PACS-related network and PC-related system software technical issues is critical to any player in the ultrasound-equipment market. Lastly, Echoserve plans to leverage its core capability in system electronics into the development of advanced capabilities in highly integrated digital and advanced mixed-signal electronics repair. 24×7