The Trials and Tribulations of Shipping an MRI Machine


A large crane is required to move an MRI to an opening made through a wall of the delivery site. This is one of our installs in Minneapolis.

There is nothing simple about shipping an MRI machine.

Although you could say this about a lot of different medical equipment, MRI presents its own unique problem set. In fact, the potential problems are too numerous to count. But two factors make the MRI Machine a unique logistical problem.

First, there's the weight. An MRI can weigh from 15,000 to more than 80,000 pounds, which presents its own challenges in proper deinstallation, transportation, and installation.

Second and most important: helium, and the Fear of The Quench.

A "quench" is, at a minimum, an extremely costly and timely repair. At a maximum, the MRI is all but useless. And this potential issue makes MRI logistics quite a bit more complicated.

Here's why: In order for the MRI's magnet to operate properly, it must run at a temperature near absolute zero (approximately –460°F). To keep it at this temperature, MRI machines use liquid helium, which keeps the the magnet at this temperature. However, if the liquid helium isn't kept at the correct levels, or otherwise reaches its boiling point (approximately -450°F), an accelerated "boil off" can occur and the magnet loses its supercooled state. Without the helium to keep the components supercooled, they heat up, expand, and the machine experiences a "quench".

Now, if you look at the differences in temperature outlined above, there are just a few degrees between properly operating MRI, and a 20-ton paperweight.


A Challenging and Successful MRI Logistics Experience: A True Story


A PrizMED Imaging mobile MRI machine on a ship traveling through the Caribbean Sea. Click to enlarge.

Perhaps it's best to tell a story about one of our toughest logistical challenges to date.

A customer requested a Mobile MRI machine, and wanted it delivered to a remote island in the Caribbean, which is disconnected from regular shipping channels. Most other companies would say "no thanks" and hang up on the customer. There's too much risk involved.

And there's no shame in that. Those companies know their limitations, don't want the financial risk, and aren't willing to put in the painstaking hours of logistical organization.

But PrizMED Imaging isn't one of those companies. We took the project, the risk, and committed ourselves to the work.

Let's talk about the challenges: For starters, it was a mobile MRI. A mobile MRI machine may be the most difficult machine to deliver via water... because of its unique requirements, this month-long shipping process required absolute detail and perfection at every step. The most critical of these strict shipping requirements included a constant power source, continuous monitoring of helium levels, and a "Roll-on/Roll-off " shipping vessel. This "Roll-on/Roll-off" requirement was particularly painful because, unlike a standard MRI, a mobile MRI unit can not be lifted or hoisted in any way. Most ports can handle this, but the final destination did not have a Roll-on/Roll-off capability at the time. So, special circumstances had to be arranged along the way, and at the final destination to allow the mobile MRI to be rolled off the ship.


The Mobile MRI's final destination on a remote island in the Caribbean.

With those challenges theoretically solved, we kept constant observation of the MRI machine as it travelled more than 1,000 miles over land, then 1,500 miles via 3 different ports in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Diesel Fuel levels had to be monitored and refilled for the constant power source (generator), liquid helium levels were carefully and constantly monitored, and we also had to make the best effort to hope for steady seas on the shipping vessel.

New challenges always present themselves. Contingency plans and over-preparedness allowed for a continuous safe passage.

The customer could not have been more pleased with PrizMED Imaging. We were willing to take the risk, had the confidence in our logistics team to handle such a large undertaking, and kept our promises. At the same time, it's entirely possible that we were the only company who didn't hang up on them!

Yes, the process was difficult. But our constant attention to detail and confidence in our ability to take on this huge project resulted in a tremendous success in which everything arrived in perfect working order.

Domestic Ease?


An MRI in Cleveland, ready for shipment to one of our domestic customers.

That worst-case logistical scenario is one example of the detail and painstaking efforts we'll take. After that process, you'd think a delivery of a standard unit would be comparatively easy. It's not. Buildings must be modified, and most often exterior walls must be removed because of the size and weight of an MRI machine.

Site requirements are strict and detailed modifications must be made to the MRI room to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.

And there's always the helium issue. A YouTube search of MRI Quench can give you a good idea of what happens when things go wrong in an MRI installation. Keep looking and you'll also see the dangers of improper shielding, which has two major problems: at worst a dangerous situation, and at the least a severely degraded image.

A machine quench can occur because something as seemingly minimal as replacing a small seal can quench an MRI. This seemingly small oversight can create an accelerated boil-off and release up to 2,000 liters of helium into the atmosphere, thereby quenching the MRI machine.

Moreover, any installation technician will tell you that, for some reason, each MRI tends to have its own personality. Each one seems to present its own difficulties in installation, rigging, and calibration before they "behave" themselves.


Our technicians preparing for installation and rigging of an MRI machine.

At PrizMED Imaging, we know these issues and stay overly prepared for every foreseeable scenario we can. Every MRI ships with a minimum 80% and maximum of 90% helium level (ironically, a more than 90% level can also cause an accelerated boil-off).

Bad things can happen a dock, on the roads, on the sea, or at the final destination. Choosing not to be overly prepared can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for you or the company that sold it to you. It's a costly risk on both ends. It requires a trusted partnership and confidence in the professionalism and logistical competence of the MRI company.

We knew the risks involved and the countless unforeseen factors in being the first company to ship a mobile MRI to this remote island. We knew we could potentially lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But we also know our team. We had the confidence in taking the risk because we know that our team can handle the tough situation by putting the right people in the right places at the right time.

It worked. It was difficult, it required countless hours of planning, and it was risky. But we'd do it again. We know we won't fail.