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Is your veterinary ultrasound machine the real deal?

ScanX Ultrasound
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I am getting married in August, and decided it would be nice to have handmade maracas at the ceremony (we have a lot of children attending), printed with our names and wedding date. I first searched Google for handmade wooden instruments, but with little success. Then I looked on Etsy, but began to get suspicious that all of the “craftspeople” offering engraved maracas seemed to be making identical products.

A quick search on Alibaba revealed the reason: hundreds of listings for the same exact product that these US and UK based businesses were clearly buying in from China. Do I really want mass-produced products made on an assembly line in China, with wood of unknown provenance, at my wedding? No, not really.


The mass production problem

If you have been looking for an ultrasound machine lately, particularly if it’s for small animal scanning, you might be starting to feel the same way: they’re all beginning to look rather indistinguishable. This trend has been accelerated by the pandemic, where smaller companies and/or companies with exclusive manufacturing agreements went under, unable to financially weather the harsh lockdowns in China that lasted for almost a year. This “survival of the fittest” environment meant that only the larger companies manufacturing generic shells en masse survived. The downside for consumers is that two completely different machines may end up in cosmetically similar (or even identical) housing, making it difficult for end-users to tell the difference.

For example, one transducer may contain 80 crystals and deliver average image quality. Another transducer housed in the exact same outer casing may contain a mainboard which can deliver 128-element image quality, with much better signal processing components. Until you pick up that probe and scan with it, you would have a hard time knowing which was superior.

The challenge now for ultrasound companies is whether to make significant financial investments in making their product look different from the competition, knowing it will simply be copied in time anyway, or continue investing that money in developing genuinely better technology. It’s a tough one, because companies need to make sales to survive – and sales decline if people believe they can buy the same machine half price under a different name from someone on Alibaba, or even from a local individual on Facebook.


My personal experience developing the ScanX

When I was working on the ScanX portable scanner, I spoke to an Australian consultancy that helps to connect inventors and factories. They said they’d found a couple of factories willing to manufacture to my specifications with a £40,000 setup/tooling fee (this is before any of the costs of materials). I was hesitant. “How long will I have until factories in China start to copy my design?”, I asked. “About 4 months,” he replied.

Even if you are willing to pay to look unique, it can only be guaranteed for a matter of months. Using the small animal ultrasound market as an example, this is a problem that plagued the ScanPad range of ultrasound scanners for years. No sooner does a new design come out, and people begin working on copying it. This devalues the brand, not least because complaints begin to accumulate on social media from people posting about their malfunctioning “ScanPad,” when often it is not actually a genuine ScanPad at all. The genuine machine’s brand becomes tarnished by the poor performance of the knock-offs.


The solution

No amount of investment in making a design unique will protect it for the long-term. With the ScanX, my final decision was to trademark it here in the UK, then piece it together with components from a number of different sources (many from Europe and the USA), making it more difficult to copy exactly. People who trade in fakes like an easy life: they don’t know anything about ultrasound themselves, so they want something “off the shelf,” not something they have to invest significant effort into copying. I have no doubt that one day the ScanX will be copied, but with the intellectual property protected in the UK, USA and Canada for the next 10 years, there are easier targets out there.

The new ScanPad which will launch this May (2022) is taking a similar approach. Ultimately, though, if someone really wants to con you with a copy, they will. This is where the onus falls upon you to be vigilant, ask tough questions, and make it more difficult for those who are trying to take your money. If someone really knows their stuff and is a genuine expert in ultrasound, they will be willing to earn your hard-earned money; not only by supplying you with fantastic, high-quality, genuine equipment that is worth the price, but also with their pre- and post-sale advice and support.


Protect yourself from con artists

  • Looks can be deceiving. If someone is claiming they’re selling you the same machine under a different name, or that they’ve “found the factory” of the a particular make and model, be sceptical. Every seller on Alibaba claims to be a factory. In fact, manufacturers rarely (if ever) do list products openly on the internet. If an individual with no experience or credentials in the ultrasound industry claims they’ve made direct contact with a genuine ultrasound factory, and you can find this “factory” yourself on a site like Alibaba, this is immediately suspect, and should have you running for the hills.
  • Ask tough questions. How has this individual or company verified the ultrasonic outputs of this scanner? Can they confidently explain to you how they know it is safe for use? For canine and feline pregnancy scanning in particular, it is essential that the equipment being used is fit for purpose.
  • Verify the seller. How invested is the person recommending equipment to you in this industry? What experience and qualifications do they have in ultrasound technology? Is it their lifelong career, or is their primary motivation simply to make a quick sale?


Remember, genuine ultrasound equipment is worth the price. The profit margins people make selling fakes are higher than real ultrasound companies make from selling genuine equipment. Treat anyone promising to save you hundreds of pounds with a healthy dose of scepticism, and if in doubt, ask for help from an expert on 0203 972 2270.

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