Tim Wojcik Brings 'Consistency of Purpose' to DRX-1 Wireless DR Detector

July 30, 2009

7 Min Read
Tim Wojcik Brings 'Consistency of Purpose' to DRX-1 Wireless DR Detector

Practical. Encouraging. A constant voice of reason. Notquite the adjectives you'd expect to describe the engineering lead on aground-breaking new medical device project. But for the Carestream Health Inc. team, whichdeveloped the first cassette-sized, wireless digital radiography (DR) detector,the steady, calming presence of Tim Wojcik, research program leader, wasinstrumental in navigating the unknown technical waters surrounding the DRX-1project.

Wojcik's 30-plus years in engineering positions within thedigital imaging space, including prominent positions on two prior,first-to-market digital imaging products, gave him the breadth of technicalknow-how and leadership experience necessary for Carestream Health to deliveron its aggressive design goals for the DRX-1, which became commerciallyavailable in June. Moreover, Wojcik's consistent style of leadership andengineering practicality kept the project in management's good graces duringsome pretty significant setbacks, while guiding the team through a series ofdesign tradeoffs to ensure it was first-to-market with a category-changingproduct. For those reasons, Design News nominates Wojcik as one of our Engineerof the Year candidates for 2009.

"Tim was the guy that kept this project going," says BillWendlandt, Carestream Health's technical project manager for the DRX-1. "He wasable to bridge the gap amongst all the disciplines-mechanical, electrical,imaging scientists and suppliers-and put the pieces together that made sense.Because of the breadth of his technical experience, he had the ability to seehow those different pieces could be synchronized."

In Search of Disruptive Technology

What Wojcik and Carestream Health set out to orchestrate wasno small task. For more than 30 years, the healthcare industry had been intransition from older projection X-ray technology to the higher performingdigital radiography (DR), but the conversion was stalled. While DR offersimproved diagnostic quality and productivity advances, health careorganizations were slow to adopt the new technology because of the high cost ofthe equipment and the additional expense of converting existing facilities toaccommodate the new, larger-size gear.

Carestream Health, formerly the Health Group of Eastman Kodak Corp., had been in the DRbusiness for eight years, but was looking for a breakout way to differentiateitself from larger competitors in the market. Sold by Kodak in May 2007 to anaffiliate of Onex Corp., Carestream Health had enjoyed success with itsComputed Radiography (CR) products, which were less expensive than DR and easyto install since they plugged right into existing X-ray equipment. Yet CRwasn't the disruptive force to jumpstart the conversion due to productivitytradeoffs associated with having to read and erase each image from the CRplate. Portable DR technology, the other possibility, was not highly regardedin the field because the cabling that was required often got in the way ofpositioning and patient care.

As head of Carestream Health's research group, Wojcik viewedthe gap as an opportunity to create a game-changing DR offering. In 2005, his groupgot together with key product line managers to hone in on concepts that mightspawn a disruptive DR product and they zeroed in on the idea of creating a DRdetector with the same kind of plug-and-play architecture that CR technologyhad with the existing X-ray world. Wojcik and a small R&D team quickly gotto work on the concept, but over the next year, the emerging design was metwith a lukewarm response by the sales team, which had concerns aboutintegration and the go-to-market strategy behind such a completely differentproduct. Undeterred and still convinced of the concept's breakthrough appeal,Wojcik and his team kept refining the wireless, cassette-sized DR detectordesign, while doing everything in their power to build enthusiasm and foster sponsorshipamong the business line groups and upper management. Under Wojcik's direction,the shunkworks R&D team continued its quest for nearly three years beforethe project eventually got the green light from management to be a top priorityfor commercialization.

"The big idea didn't click right away," says Paul Taillie,Carestream Health's commercialization business manager for the DRX-1. "Tim wasthe champion. Under the covers and in public with management, he kept the ideaalive and wouldn't let them toss it aside based on the lukewarm reaction fromthe field."

The idea sounded simple enough: Create a portable and easyto operate DR unit, at an attractive price point, that would integrate intoexisting X-ray equipment, eliminating the need for costly room makeovers. Yetthe simplicity of the concept masked a highly complex design. For one thing,the new DR detector had to be a fraction of the size of traditional DR units,which weigh in about 40 pounds. That meant in the 14 X 17-inch space of a traditionalX-ray cassette, Wojcik's team had to pack in some serious horsepower, includinga glass sensor panel, radio, scintillator, battery and power managementelectronics. The unit also had to have a highly durable design to protect thesensitive image sensor panel from the wear and tear of everyday use, not tomention, accommodate wireless capabilities that delivered flexibility forpatient care, while upholding high-performance image quality withoutinterference from other nearby hospital systems.

A Series of Tradeoffs

Wojcik admits his "consistency of purpose" helped the teamnegotiate the right tradeoffs for this ambitious design. "We never deviatedfrom the goal of having a cassette-sized form factor and to make the productportable," he says. "Many said we should make the detector bigger to give usmore design space or to skip the wireless. But our competitors had made thesetradeoffs, and I knew we had to stick to our guns-if we followed them, we'dlose track of the whole point of being a defining product."

Wojcik's breadth of experience, specifically in imagingengineering, likely accounts for his ability to make those kind of tough calls.With a degree in electrical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology,Wojcik started out at Kodak as a manufacturing engineer and "swam upstream fromthere," he explains, taking roles in product development, commercial programmanagement and eventually making the leap over to the labs and innovation sideof R&D. Being part of the engineering team for two other ground-breakingprojects, the first medical laser printer and the first clinical CR system,also helped prep Wojcik for his role on the DRX-1 project.

The wireless component presented the biggest test forWojcik's self-described "consistency of purpose." While his research team andthe commercialization engineering group spent a significant amount of timeearly on doing parallel development on core parts of the DRX-1 system,including the mechanical packaging and the electronics circuitry related to theimage subsystem, it left the wireless component to later on in the process,figuring it was a turn-key part of the system. That decision ended up hauntingWojcik and his team. Interference problems with the radio were degradingimaging performance, and many on the business side and in engineeringmanagement wanted to release the DRX-1 as a portable, tethered unit, addingwireless in subsequent versions.

Taille describes a meeting where the wireless function wastaken off the table and participants were actively discussing alternativeplans. "A band of people were motivated to change the original plan and dumpthe wireless, and I was on the fence because at that point, things were prettydismal," he recalls. "Tim stood up in that meeting and said he thought we wereselling ourselves short if we didn't go for the full intent of the originalproduct concept. The spirit he conveyed at that one particular meeting helpedturn it around. People left the meeting, and wireless was still very much alive."

Wendlandt believes Wojcik was able to turn things around fora couple of reasons. For one thing, Wojcik wasn't bent on flexing technicalmuscle on every turn of the DRX-1. For example, he steered the team to maketradeoffs around performance, believing it was more important to have aplug-and-play DR detector that could integrate with the existing X-ray formfactor rather than having a larger unit capable of higher image quality.  Wojcik also benefited from years ofexperience and technical know-how along with a systems engineering focus thatlent credence to his decisions.

"In a project as complicated as this one where you need tohave people with expertise at the individual subsystem level, you don't alwaysfind that person that can put it all together, especially early on," Wendlandtsays. "You take someone with the same management skills that Tim has and putthem in the same position and they may not have been as successful. Thecornerstone of his success was having the vision, keeping it in front of managementand producing a product someone actually wants."

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