Alongside aerospace and energy, medical devices has been a core market of Avingtrans since its was founded in the early 1980s. Over the past three decades, it has expanded its presence in the sector through mergers and acquisitions; beginning with Metalcraft in 2004, which thrust the company into the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) space.

This was followed by its 2017 acquisition of Scientific Magnetics, which manufactures superconducting magnets necessary for MRI and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) machines. Next, Avingtrans purchased Texas-based Tecmag in October 2018; this most recent acquisition means the company can produce complete MRI and NMR systems for the first time.

Avingtrans business development director and Scientific Magnetics founder Peter Penfold discussed the company’s history in the medical imaging industry, the impact of the Tecmag acquisition on its medical business, the challenges facing the sector, recent noteworthy innovations and the main drivers of industry growth in the next few years.

Allie Nawrat: What motivated Avingtrans to enter the medical market and especially focus on MRI and NMR technology?

Peter Penfold: Avingtrans, through its subsidiary Stainless Metalcraft, has been in the medical market since 1981, when it supplied prototype fabrications for the first clinical MRI scanners. Since that time, Metalcraft has supplied in excess of 50% of the worldwide supply of whole body MRI cryostat vessel parts and formers to the major MRI system manufacturers from facilities in Chatteris, UK, and Chengdu and Sichuan in China. Metalcraft also supplies cryogenic vessels to NMR magnet and system manufacturers.

NMR is a closely related technique to MRI, using the same underlying physical principle, but is most often used in the structural determination of complex molecules, for example in pharmaceutical research.

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AN: Avingtrans has a long history of mergers and acquisitions. What led the company to move to acquire Tecmag in October?

PP: In February 2017, Avingtrans acquired Scientific Magnets, a manufacturer of superconducting magnet systems, which specialises in cryogen free technology whereby such magnets can be maintained their operating temperature of approximately -269°C without the use of liquid cryogens.

The ability to manufacture entire superconducting magnet systems in addition to magnet system components represented a significant move up the value-added chain. The acquisition of Tecmag, a respected and long established manufacturer of modular and flexible NMR spectrometers, which are a key component of NMR and MRI systems, is a further move in this direction.

Although relatively small, this is a strategically important acquisition in enhancing our capability in NMR and MRI. The Tecmag console will form a key component in our development of niche products in these markets going forward.

AN: What are the most significant challenges facing the medical imaging sector?

PP: One key challenge is the shortage of radiologists in the face of an ever-increasing demand for diagnostic imaging. We believe opportunities exist to configure the delivery of MRI imaging in new ways that will add significant efficiency. This can be summarised as ‘imaging at the point of need’; designing and building MRI systems that are easy to site and move between locations.

AN: What are the most recent important innovations in the MRI and NMR imaging market?

PP: Cryogen-free magnet technology will be an increasingly important factor in the ability to site NMR and MRI systems in locations that are currently difficult due to the logistics and costs associated with liquid helium.

Innovation in the capability and efficiency of MRI systems driven by software developments is leading to reduced scan times. Higher magnetic fields with 7 tesla systems now cleared for clinical use will provide ultra-fine image resolution of the brain.

AN: What areas of the medical imaging sector do you foresee driving industry growth in the next five years?

PP: Geographically, the US and Europe are the largest markets for MRI systems; Asia Pacific is the highest growth market. Markets, such as China and India, with aging populations, the increased incidence of cancers and the ability of a growing proportion of the population able to pay for medical services, are attracting both established and new domestic providers of diagnostic imaging systems.