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GE Healthcare innovates in India for bottom of the pyramid

Subir Roy  |  Chennai/ Bangalore 

GE Healthcare, the $17 billion health solutions business of General Electric Co, is acquiring a dual focus in India which is both similar to what it has for other emerging markets and also different.

Like so many other MNCs, it is targeting emerging markets, of which India represents a major chunk, as a critical growth area. But India is also rapidly becoming a key geography where some of the innovative products to address the market at the bottom of the pyramid are being developed.

Towards this end, it has lined up a set of launches over the next 18 months, says Ashish Shah, general manager for GE Healthcare’s Global Technology Organization in India. By the end of this year, it will launch MAC 600, an enhanced and upgraded version of the MAC 400, the ECG device “designed, sourced and manufactured in India” for markets like India, which was launched last year.

Also in the pipeline is MAC I, a simplified and cheaper version, which will be targeted specifically at India. MAC 400, which is already in the market, is priced at the higher end — $800-1,000. It sold 3,600 units last year, is aiming to sell 8,000 in the current year. GE Healthcare is aiming to get a dominant share of the market for ECG devices in four years through the device built on the MAC platform.

MAC 400 was developed looking at what is needed to deliver affordable heathcare in India and then building a viable business proposition which incorporates the latest technologies. Though priced at the higher end, GE Healthcare says it should be able to deliver ECG reports at less than a dollar (Rs 50).

The device took 18 months to develop at GE’s John F Welch Research Centre in Bangalore at, by global standards, a remarkably low cost of half-a-million dollars. The engineers in Bangalore, led by Shah, set out to develop something that was simple to operate, could be put into a backpack (it weighs 1.1 kg, far less than a laptop) and ran on rechargeable battery.

The machine has embedded software incorporating industry gold standard algorithm which analyses the data collected by the probes and interprets them in the printout in English. To cut costs and development time, off-the-shelf components were used as much as possible. For example, the printout is done by the same component used to print a bus ticket. It is manufactured by Wipro GE Healthcare at Whitfield on the outskirts of Bangalore.

GE Healthcare is also designing a product in the maternal-infant care segment, a baby warmer which will be able to act as an incubator, transporter (you will be able to carry the baby in it) and also have a blue light which will provide phototherapy to treat infant jaundice. The device incorporating all these features (the phototherapy device has already arrived) will be launched next year.

GE Healthcare now has eight-nine products in India covering X-ray, maternal-infant care, critical ventilators, ultrasound, and of course, ECG. Among them is India’s first Digital X-ray System.

In two-three years, it aims to come out with 8-10 new products like a low-cost MRI, portable X-ray systems and monitoring systems. They will be of the same quality as in any developed country and go through rigorous FDA audits. With this, GE Healthcare expects to double its current Indian turnover to $1 billion in three to four years. Significantly, half of its current turnover is export earnings. The MAC 400 is also being exported to China where it will eventually be manufactured.

GE Healthcare began in 1995 in India by making available de-featured US products to meet Indian price points. Then, the John F Welch lab opened in Bangalore in 2000, making India a research hub for GE as a whole, including the healthcare business.

Recently, GE Healthcare opened a new R&D lab in Bangalore which will triple the existing capability.

John Dineen, president & CEO, GE Healthcare said, “It is the biggest engineering lab for GE Healthcare. We have invested $ 50 million in the new lab and will be making an additional investment of $ 25 million.”

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First Published: Mon, May 04 2009. 00:20 IST