The High Cost of Supporting Today’s High-Tech Transducers

Philips X5-1 Array
X5-1 Array

Significant advancements have occurred in transducer technology in the past few years, including single-crystal technology, CMUT, matrix array technology and wireless probes. The high cost of supporting today’s high-tech transducers has the potential to ruin any budget.

If you support the ultrasound modality in any way, you’ve most-likely heard of the Philips X5-1 transducer. Many believe that it’s THE transducer that revolutionized modern trans-thoracic echo-cardiography. For those not so familiar, rather than producing traditional 2D cross-sectional images, probes, such as the X5-1, can create live-3D volumetric images. No doubt, if you have these transducers in your fleet, then you’ve spent tens of thousands from your service budget supporting them. But why are these transducers more costly to support and seem to fail much more often than traditional transducers?

Examples of live-3D volumetric probes
Examples of live-3D volumetric probes

Legacy Technology

If we focus on Philips cardiac transducers, you’ll see there’s a quantum leap in technology between the legacy S5-1 and the X5-1.  The typical legacy cardiac transducer, in this case the S5-1, was designed around a traditional acoustic array, consisting of 80 acoustic elements, bonded to backing material to control the direction of and efficiency of the sound energy. The array is electronically connected to a single PCB within the scanhead via several flex-circuits. The PCB is relatively simple but mostly handles the connection to the wiring harness (consisting of 80 miniature coax-cables, the thickness of a human hair).

State-Of-The-Art Technology

The design of the X5-1 is a radical departure from traditional probe design.

  • The acoustic array in the X5-1 is of a newer design than traditional arrays. Although now commonplace within most Philips transducers, PureWave arrays are much more efficient and have the capability of providing greater penetration and resolution than traditional arrays.
  • The X5-1 array boasts 3040 elements in roughly the same physical space as the 80-element S5-1.
  • The array is mounted, not on traditional backing material, but sits atop of an ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) which handles much of the control and beamforming of the array.
  • Beamforming and control traditionally lie within the scanner itself. There is a series of 4 PCB’s within the scanhead to assist with array/ASIC control as well as handle the connection to the wiring harness.
  • The cable, rather than consisting of 80 wires, now has 163 consuming roughly the same physical dimensions. 12 wires are designated for ASIC control, 151 for signals.
Table highlighting transducer technology

These high-tech probes exhibit failures similar to other transducers…lens damage, strain relief damage, cable pulls, connector damage, premature electronic failures and accidental trauma.  For years, the primary mode of failure on almost all cardiac probes was a breakdown of the individual micro-coaxial wires within the wiring harness due to the way echo studies are performed.  Cable/wiring failures are still common, but all the technological advancements in these probes have presented new modes of failure never seen before.

For example, a very common mode of failure with the Philips X5-1, that is not typically encountered on traditional probe designs, is constant static in CW (continuous wave) Doppler mode at only specific locations within the image. The problem may or may not actually be repeatable, which makes it extremely frustrating for echo-techs as well as service personnel. A good percentage of the X5-1’s exhibiting this phenomenon may actually have no problem whatsoever, however; it is likely that it is THE most frequent reason for which the probe is replaced.

Constant static in CW Doppler mode on the Philips X5-1
Constant static in CW Doppler mode

Market Challenges

Even though the causes of probe failures remain mostly unchanged, the components within probes and the methods to address the failures have become increasingly challenging.  Healthcare organizations have been struggling to find true repair solutions for live 3D volumetric probes, such as the Philips X8-2t, X7-2t, X5-1, GE 6VT-D, and that most solutions result in replacement versus traditional repair.

Innovatus Imaging not only has the ability to interrogate the various components in the X5-1, but also has the ability to address complex failures on this probe. We’ve also developed significant capabilities on other volumetric probes such as the X7-2t and X8-2t and GE 6VT-D, thus enabling healthcare facilities to avoid costly replacements. As today’s transducers become more advanced, you can bet that tomorrow’s breakdowns are going to be based upon obscure, non-traditional points of failures. Be sure that your repair provider has advanced as much as the products you support.

For more information on field testing the X5-1, See our post on Troubleshooting the Philips X5-1

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