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How Queensland man’s lightbulb moment took great weight off our X-ray doctors

by Luke Molnar

This article was written by Robert MacDonald and posted InQueensland here.

Glenn Honey decided the medical imaging industry needed better radiation protection. The result? A company that’s been recognised as an export champion.

Who knew the world needed a better lead apron?

Glenn Honey did and so he designed one.

His Brisbane-based Imaging Solutions now supplies more than half of the Australian market for the radiation protection apparel needed by anyone involved in medical imaging – from dentists and veterinarians to radiologists and radiographers.

He’s also been selling his Australian-designed and locally made radiation-blocking aprons, and related items, around the world for the past several years.

The company started with New Zealand before moving onto Asia and Europe and recently launched a big push into the United States, the traditional big player in this particular market segment.

“We launched in America on the Fourth of July, just to stir them up a bit,” says Honey, whose company won the International Health Award category at the Premier of Queensland’s 2021 Export Awards last week.

Honey set up Imaging Solutions 20 years ago after a successful sales and marketing career with large corporates.

His last position was with Agfa, selling pre-digital medical imaging supplies where he realised two things: that his product lines were reaching the end of their lifecycle and that medical customers also needed all sorts of accessories – from protective clothing to specialised skin markers, positioning aids and trolleys.

“It was my lightbulb moment. I decided our business would become an accessories business,” Honey says.

“And so, I decided the best thing I could do was travel the world for a period of time and engage with the major suppliers and key people with the number one product in each category.

“I used to go up to an operating theatre and look through the observation window and say, ‘what can I supply out of everything that’s in that room?’”

Today, Imaging Solutions supports about 25 to 30 key product classifications, ranging from radiation protection to medical data management software, patient trolleys and cleaning equipment.

Along the way, Honey decided that some of the radiation protection gear on the market at the time wasn’t up to scratch and “in the final analysis could affect people’s health”.

“So, we decided we’d do it for ourselves.”

The company worked with solid state physics expert Dr Johnny Laban, a scientist with New Zealand’s National Radiation Laboratory for more than 20 years, to develop its own core material to replace the lead sheeting traditionally used in radiation protection gear.

Imaging Solutions says its product, marketed as RadSafe Optima, is “designed to offer radiation protection that meets or exceeds all relevant international standards while minimising weight compared to lead-only and other competing non-lead materials.”

The company currently makes its core material at a plant in the United States, but local production is scheduled to begin at a purpose-built factory at Crestmead, south of Brisbane, in May next year thanks to a $2 million grant from the Queensland Government.

The funding is being provided under the Government’s $50 million Essential Goods and Supply Chain program, set up in the early days of the COVID pandemic.

Honey, perhaps understandably, argues that government support to bring his company’s manufacturing operations back to Australia makes sense, given the extensive and growing use of diagnostic imaging.

“There are about 270 category one and category two hospitals that have a lot of capacity for diagnostic x-ray in Australia. And there are something like 600 private imaging practices utilising radiation every day of the week to identify health issues, treat them, triage them or whatever,” he says.

The US currently accounts for about three-quarters of the radiation protection supply chain. Honey argues that any disruption to supply for whatever reason, geopolitical or other, could have serious consequences for the health of Australians.

Imaging Solutions began in a front loungeroom, with the aim of being “a single source supplier of the best medical imaging and general healthcare products from the world’s leading brands”.

Today it occupies several thousand square metres of office and factory space on Brisbane’s southside and employs about 45 staff, a number that will grow once the new RadSafe Optima production facility starts next year.