When you think of automation, you may think of assembly lines or the like. But in the case of hearing aids, where customization is key, 3D printing is where it’s at. The excellent personalization afforded by this growing technology brings customization into the fold. 3D printing, unlike traditional manufacturing practices, is not a cookie-cutter approach to the manufacture of hearing aids. Instead, each hearing aid is made with the custom specs that are unique to each individual, in effect transforming a process that was once pretty labor-intensive. Now, it’s totally automated and rejects the one-size-fits-all approach. It’s a fact that everyone’s ear shapes and sizes are different, so why would they have the same type of hearing aid?
Start to Finish
Created using a laser scanner operated by a skilled audiologist, the model is made from the printer where a shell or mold of the hearing aid is developed out of resin. Quality checked at various stages, this material is flexible and can be customized with integral parts such as acoustic vents and electronics. Digital cameras help to place the template to the mold use 150,000 points of reference, thanks to the testing various geometric patterns and combinations to get the most accurate final product. Sound is processed through special circuitry, and represents the center and purpose of the entire device. It’s easy to get a precise fit every time when you use a computer to analyze all aspects. When you think of the digital image of the ear canal as a blueprint for the hearing aid, the picture becomes clear in that this is a revolutionary process that has brought on the need for 10 million 3D printed hearing devices in this country. This means that most deaf or hearing impaired individuals are wearing hearing devices made by 3D printing. Transformed into a near art form, this process amazingly takes just one day in what used to take weeks. Obviously, this is a huge leap forward in the hearing device industry, as 3D printing allows many people to hear better in comfort. Additive manufacturing and 3D laser scanning were born of a need for a more accurate fit through a truly remarkable process.
Many say 3D printing reflects reduced manufacturing costs, but others say the benefits in that regard have not been seen yet. Nonetheless, 3D printing is praised for its streamlining effects, allowing for an unprecedented production boost due to the fact that one hearing aid only takes a day to create when it used to take at least a week. Hearing aids made from the combination of 3D printing and laser scanning can offer a much-needed customized fit for the user. The hearing aid industry is on its way up with no signs of stopping, at $2 billion each year, with growth expected to increase by nearly three percent in the next few years, all thanks in part to the burgeoning use of 3D printing and laser scanning.