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The crystal center at Siemens Healthineers

With the NAEOTOM Alpha*, Siemens Healthineers is launching the world's first computed tomography system with photon-counting detector in 2021. The device is considered a revolution worldwide and was nominated for the German Future Prize in 2021. The research, production and development teams are all united in one place: at the Siemens Healthineers site in Forchheim of the Nuremberg Metropolitan Region.

"It's like the transition from conventional television to HD TV and from black and white to color television - all in one step," says Stefan Ulzheimer. The Doctor of Physics has been working on the development of new CT technologies for over 20 years. Over 10 years he has been working on the first photon-counting CT scanner. Computed tomography, or CT for short, enables doctors to take images of the inside of the body, such as organs and bones, and use them to make diagnoses. X-rays are used for this. The newly developed photon-counting technology now produces CT images of much higher quality and higher information content with a lower radiation dose for patients.

Crystals made in Forchheim

At the heart of the new detector, the centerpiece of a CT scanner, are special crystals. Until now, the material could only be produced in this form at the plant of a Siemens Healthineers subsidiary in Japan. Now the company is bringing production to the Metropolitan Region, where all detectors for Siemens Healthineers CT scanners are developed and manufactured worldwide.

Matthias Arzig and Danica Kettner are engineers. Together with a large team, they are setting up the new crystal production facility. Matthias was already involved in the rather rare cultivation of crystals during his doctorate at the University of Erlangen. He came across the job ad from Siemens Healthineers by chance: "I wasn't actually planning to apply for a new job, but when I saw the advertisement, I knew I had to seize the opportunity," he says.

A genuine craft

The crystals are produced in a very complex process. High temperatures (up to 1100 °C) and a lot of time are required, as a crystal grows within 10 to 12 weeks. Cultivation is a real craft and a science in itself, requiring patience, sensitivity and precision. They are essential for the later CT scanners, as the crystals are the basis for the extreme increase in image quality.

Matthias appreciates the variety of tasks that special production entails: "I'm in the lab, filling ampoules, doing simulations on the PC, evaluating tests, but also developing processes further and thinking about how to make them suitable for mass production in the factory," he says. "I also particularly enjoy the small manual tasks, such as sealing our quartz glass ampoules."

A young and diverse team

"The ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the new crystal center was a special team moment," Danica recalls. "It was a big event that we all celebrated together. We put so much time, energy and effort into this project and to see it now become a reality feels great."

By "we", she means a team of colleagues from a wide range of professional backgrounds. They range from experts in physics, chemistry and mechanical engineering to mechanics, chemical technicians, glass apparatus engineers and specialists in logistics and data management. Initially, the core team consisted of just a few members. Today, there are several hundred people who contribute to a finished device.

Diversity also characterizes the collaboration. Everyone contributes their skills and experience. All team members must be able to take on different roles. It is also necessary to be able to empathize with each other's "world". "We all learn from each other, especially through learning by doing," says Danica, "which has helped us to develop professionally."

Team spirit & a shared vision

Everyday working life means regular challenges for the team. Matthias particularly appreciates the motivation and team spirit among his colleagues: "We're a young team and we all get on really well. The atmosphere is very relaxed," he reports.

What is currently still taking place on a small scale in the laboratory will soon move into larger-scale production at the crystal center currently being built in Forchheim. This is linked to the big, common goal that drives the team: To make photon-counting technology accessible to more people and thus have a positive impact on medical professionals and patients. "Our common goal makes the work easy. Everyone does their best. We support each other. Everyone just goes full throttle all the time," says Matthias.

Ultimate goal: Doing something meaningful

For Danica - and for many Healthineers - this impact is paramount: "I didn't want to build cars or cell phones - I always wanted to get into medical technology and do something that would have a positive impact on people," she says.

The production of the NAEOTOM Alpha is very promising: the devices are already being used in clinics and radiology practices around the world. They reliably provide doctors with even more informative images, which can be used as a basis for making more accurate diagnoses more quickly. The technology not only helps to detect tumors, lung, and heart disease, but also spares many patients a long and often difficult period of uncertainty. "Knowing what comes out at the end of this long process chain is my greatest motivation. I am very happy to be a part of it," says Danica.

"You can't achieve anything on your own."

Production on an industrial scale is set to begin in the new crystal center in 2026. The team around photon-counting production in Forchheim will therefore continue to grow. We are looking for team players who are very good at what they do. Engineers from all disciplines with a passion for medical technology, but also scientists who enjoy applied research and development, are particularly sought after.

Click here for current vacancies:

Career at Siemens Healthineers

© Tim El-Helou, Europäische Metropolregion Nürnberg, Siemens Healthineers


*NAEOTOM Alpha is not commercially available for purchase in some countries yet. Due to medical device regulations, future availability cannot be guaranteed.

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