Sounds like something from the future, but the future of hearing aid manufacturing is certainly here. 3D printers can make customized hearing aids and this has been happening for years. This type of printing is making waves in the hearing aid industry, also known as additive manufacturing. Three-D printing, not really a brand new technology, allows for a more efficient process of manufacturing and fitting hearing aids. This ensure everyone gets the perfect fit through precision and quality control – welcome news to the 35 million people in the U.S. who have some kind of hearing impairment. It’s known as additive manufacturing, and it’s getting more attention thanks to the customization trend that leads to a snugger fit for each person. This process is called additive manufacturing because rather than take something away, it adds layer upon layer to achieve just the right fit. Due to the customized nature of these devices, 3D printing is being touted for its increased effectiveness and comfort level. This revolutionary way to construct custom hearing devices means everyone can enjoy a hearing aid that fits well without having to be uncomfortable.
Benefits of this Approach
This type of 3D printing has been gaining momentum in the industry due to the boost in the precision of the process. It’s actually used quite often in manufacturing, jewelry, art and electronics. The hearing aid business has been benefiting from the approach for many years, helping people all over the world hear better and feel more comfortable. Actually, 35 million Americans have a hearing impairment, and are thus benefiting from the science of 3D printing. Accuracy, speed and efficiency are at the forefront of this, along with customization – an integral component because no two ear canals are the same. Traditional manufacturing processes never could ensure a perfect unique fit for each user, so as a result, many imperfections were present that detracted from the comfort level for each person. The advent of 3D printing represents a big influence on the industry as a whole.
When 3D printing is applied to the manufacturing of a hearing device, it only takes a single day. This cool process, as shown in the 10 million 3D printed hearing devices currently in circulation in the U.S., has revolutionized the way these devices are created. While it used to take a very long time to create a hearing device, scientists still couldn’t get a custom fit, doing away with labor intensive manufacturing processes of the past. Now, the newer technology cuts down time spent on manufacturing. The process is actually quite impressive. Once a pointcloud is created by the audiologist – the only qualified professional able to do this — a digital image is made of the ear thanks to a laser scanner that must be quality checked to make sure it’s a proper fit. Then, the shell, also referred to as the mold, is produced by the 3D printer. What comes out is a flexible resin material that must be fitted with acoustic vents, electronics and other components that make up the hearing aid. Digital cameras work hard to use 150,000 points of reference to come up with the template, which is then applied to the mold. The best part is that audiologists test countless geometric patterns and combinations prior to printing out the final shell. The circuitry — which codes the amplification of sound – is the last to go in. A seamless fit results each and every time.