By Becky Hurley
Frank Caris and imaging giant dpiX view global opportunity from Colorado Springs, with the help of an international cast of engineering talent
Ever had a digital x-ray done? If so, there’s a 50 percent chance that it was administered by a dpiX product.
As the producer of high-powered silicon sensor arrays, the company’s technology helps save lives. It also helps military and public safety officials detect bombs in shipping containers, air cargo or suspicious packages. DpiX dominates this very specialized “maker” category.
The company’s business model is a hybrid, a start-up that began as part of the Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). Spun-off in 1999, the operation’s clients are often its joint venture partners, collaborators and investors.
“Our name seldom appears on a label,” says CEO Frank Caris, adding that the company’s OEM technology is regularly used by companies like Philips Healthcare, Varian Medical Systems, Siemens Healthcare, Trixell, Thales and others to build their own branded equipment.
Its sensitive digital technology has been adopted by a majority of the nation’s hospitals, oncologists and large medical practices for mammography, bone scans, chest x-rays and interventional radiology. At least 20 Denver and 3 Colorado Springs hospitals use dpiX-produced x-ray sensors. The technology captures up to 60 frames a second, generating far less radiation exposure to the body than more invasive film-based x-rays. It also allows surgery to be done with full-time film exposure.
And there are plenty of new applications on the horizon. Examples include portable x-ray equipment used on the battlefield or x-ray machines used by zookeepers and veterinarians to treat ailing animals.
DpiX clients also include defense and industrial manufacturers that incorporate its large-scale treated silicon plates – comparable to a very large semiconductor chip – in security screening and other products.
Utilities and payroll are the biggest contributors to corporate overhead. Colorado Springs’ low kilowatt per hour cost was a major facility site-selection selling point, especially when compared to higher electricity costs on the East and West coasts.
Direct competition Caris describes as “very scattered.”
High volume Asian silicon chip plants, for example, produce the technology to power as many as 4 million 60-inch screen TVs a year. Those offshore manufacturers have been so busy trying to keep up with exploding global demand for TVs and hand-helds -- tablets and cell phones -- that it’s not practical to stop and retool for specialized processes.
Caris shrugs off trying to compete with such low-cost, often low-quality product makers. In contrast, he points out that his employees – a team of talented U.S. and international Ph.Ds, engineers and technicians -- prefer to focus on technology that helps humanity and saves lives.
“It’s not as easy to find employees with semiconductor chip experience in Colorado as it was in Silicon Valley,” Caris admits. “We have an ongoing need for top engineering talent – and there is a shortage. We frequently hire outside the U.S. The international (and gender) diversity of our management team – 3 out of 8 people come from different backgrounds -- is valuable.
“For every one digital x-ray machines, there are 6 or 7 smaller hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices that still use film. That means our market can grow by 7 times – even if we didn’t invent anything new. That’s part of the ‘secret sauce’ in our success.
“We’re looking for ways to wrap current technology around new developments. For example, some day we hope to develop more flexible polymer materials to replace silicon glass.”
Keeping the good people we have in a competitive environment. We are proud of our low employee attrition rates.