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Plan R&D to keep pace with medical advances

Grandke joined Siemens AG's Corporate R&D in Erlangen, Germany, in 1979. In 1987 he was named department head for Physical Systems Engineering, and in 1991 he moved to the Medical Engineering Group, where he assumed worldwide responsibility for application development in the Magnetic Resonance division. Grandke was appointed president and CEO of Siemens Corporate Research, Princeton, NJ, in January 1996. After studying physics at the Universities of Kiel, Erlangen-Nuernberg, and Stuttgart Germany, he received his Ph.D. in 1978 from the University of Stuttgart and held a post-doctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, also in Stuttgart.

Siemens Corporate Research (SCR) is one of four corporate R&D facilities Siemens runs worldwide. Image processing is a key technology area for Siemens Medical, says Grandke.

Design News: What role does Siemens Corporate Research play?

Grandke: Siemens is very diverse. Our role here at Siemens Corporate Research is to support all Siemens operating groups and companies worldwide by developing new products, new product features, and new services to advance the company's competitive edge.

Q: Why does Siemens have centralized R&D centers?

A: Siemens Medical has a substantial R&D group of its own. What we are doing for medical here is highly focused in the areas of information and image processing. Image processing is not only relevant to medical but also to other fields such as video communications, visual tools for industrial inspection, and video monitoring and surveillance. By doing the R&D here rather than within the medical group, we can make sure that we take optimum advantage of any possible synergies among these different applications.

Q: What percent of sales revenue does Siemens invest in R&D?

A: Last fiscal year, we invested about 8% of sales revenue into R&D. Compared with other companies, that percentage is on the high side, which is mostly due to the huge diversity of the company.

Q: Why is R&D so critical in the medical field?

A: For any kind of medical innovation, a company has to make sure that the product doesn't only get to market but that it also really helps the patient. Any new equipment--or even any new feature on existing equipment--has to undergo thorough and intense medical testing to get approval before it can be launched into the market. Because this is such a time-consuming process, one has to plan all these R&D activities that will lead to new products or features very carefully and in a detailed manner.

Q: How can you plan R&D?

A: Well of course you can't plan to make a certain invention. But what you can still do fairly systematically is plan your product succession plan. Take for example computer tomography. Our people have a pretty good idea of what the next steps in innovation will be and what kind of technologies we need to master in order to achieve these steps.

Q: What are the special challenges involved in designing medical equipment?

A: Clinical trials of new methods are very critical, so getting new methods out to clinical trials early in the process is key. There's also a continuously increasing cost pressure in this field. So it isn't smart anymore to design ever-more-costly medical equipment for which it will be difficult to get reimbursement approval. Today it is much more important to design medical equipment that advances diagnosis, and helps reduce cost.

Q: What medical technologies are you researching?

A: One of the projects SCR is working on is called multimedia medical reporting, which would help speed up and facilitate communication between a referring physician and the doctor who takes the images and makes the diagnosis. Today that communication process requires extensive writing of letters and reports, filing film images, and sending mail. A multimedia message could consist of a diagnostic image, dynamic annotation, and voice recording. This is all transformed into a simple e-mail message which can be sent to the referring physician.

Q: So even though doctors are obviously quite smart, it's still important to design medical products that are easy to use?

A: Absolutely. Because time is of the utmost importance and any new feature that you would offer to a doctor that does not also speed up the job would not receive acceptance.

Q: What new medical technologies can we expect to see in the next decade?

A: The whole field of image display, image processing, and evaluation will play an increasingly important role. I would see more chances for innovation on the side of how to use, display, and diagnose this information--the area of postprocessing.

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