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.
Why do we Need 3D Printed Hearing Devices?
The short answer is personalization. This is the biggest benefit of 3D printed hearing aids because it’s not a cookie-cutter approach to the industry. Each hearing aid is made with the custom specs that are unique to each individual. This is in direct contrast to traditional manufacturing processes that tend to take a one size fits all approach. This technology, while impacting the hearing impaired and medical communities, is not a brand new technology. In fact, it’s been around awhile in terms of hearing aid manufacturing, turning a process that was once pretty labor-intensive into one that’s completely automated.
The Precision Process
How is precision achieved each and every time? A digital image of the ear canal is created using a laser scanner operated by a skilled audiologist. After a thorough quality check, a model is made from the printer where a shell or mold of the hearing aid is developed out of is resin. This material is flexible and can be customized with integral parts such as acoustic vents, electronics and other components. Digital cameras that assist in putting the template to the mold use 150,000 points of reference, testing various geometric patterns and combinations to get the most accurate final product. Sound, amplified through special circuitry, is the center of the entire device. This revolutionary process has resulted in more than 10 million 3D printed hearing devices currently used by deaf or hearing impaired individuals. This process has now been transformed into a near art form, and what used to take weeks now takes just a single day. Indicative of a huge leap forward in the hearing device industry, 3D printing allows many people to hear better in comfort thanks to the customized nature of these devices. Born of a need for a more accurate fit, additive manufacturing and 3D laser scanning are used in conjunction to achieve this remarkable process.