NORTH GREENBUSH, N.Y. -- When General Electric’s digital mammography production facility opened in the Rensselaer Technology Park three years ago, officials announced that 150 would be eventually be employed at the site. Since then, the facility has been on a slow growth course and has now surpassed that mark.
GE opened the $165 million facility in 2009 with the intent to bring its newly developed digital mammography technology, as opposed to film, to market as quickly as possible. When the doors opened, an initial about 100-person workforce began production in earnest.
The first digital mammography detectors, the core technology that can scan a woman’s breast for indications of cancer, were shipped in 2010. In the three years since, the facility has gradually expanded the X-ray detector market both within and outside of the medical field.
Digital detectors are now produced at the facility that can survey an area where, for example, a stent is to be placed, and a live image of the arteries and blood vessels is needed during the procedure. Such detectors are designed with reliability and a fast frame rate in mind, as opposed to mammography detectors, which are designed for low X-ray doses, and detecting the smallest types of cancers.
GE Healthcare is one of many branches of the multinational conglomerate, a diversity that has lent itself to finding other new uses for the detectors. "It just happens to be that that mammography detector with the small pixels and the great image quality, the industrial team in Pennsylvania said, ‘We could really use this,’" explained Plant Manager Steve Hanagan.
Oil rigs and refineries often need to check joints in their gas lines for cracks or flaws that allow the energy company to avert possible leaks, and the environmental crises that can result. Likewise, detectors have been designed to check for flaws in aircraft turbine blades, which need to be produced with very high tolerances given the extreme forces that act upon them during daily use, and guarantee passenger safety.
"Engineers are even, right now, designing a detector that to go to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and image the pipes to make sure they don’t need to be replaced," said Hanagan. "It’s kind of an extension that we do for healthcare, but with the same resources."
The facility is now in the early planning stages for production of general radiography device, tailored for creating X-ray images of different parts of a patient’s body. Those detectors could be installed in a table or on a mobile cart, and could be brought into a patient’s room in the event that a patient cannot be bought to the detector.
"With each of the new product lines that have come in we’ve grown the staff by about two to ten people," said Thomas P. Feist, general manager of global X-ray detectors, for GE Healthcare. Once the facility brings the new product online and starts production, Hanagan expects to increase the facility workforce by about 10 percent.
The design and production of these machines is a coordinated affair that occurs in concert with two other X-ray production facilities under the GE Healthcare banner. Those include a contract manufacturer based in California, and an assembly facility in China.
The tech park site is the only GE facility that produces X-ray mammography detectors. Each year, the employees at the 100 Stone Clay Road plant produce about 1,000 mammography detectors that, when incorporated into a gantry at a facility in France, are sold for roughly $200,000, a price that fluctuates based on specification.
They are then delivered around the world.