Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, doesn’t it? But 3D printing is making waves in the hearing aid industry. Additive manufacturing involves adding to a product layer by layer rather than cutting away at it with tools like lathes. It’s used in all sorts of industries but its use in the hearing aid sector gets the most attention because of its precision. Helping people hear better is the aim of this technology, which is important to the more than 35 million people in this country who suffer from hearing impairments. 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, helps to create hearing aids that provide a perfectly customizable fit. This technology isn’t really new, as it’s been used in the manufacture of hearing aids for quite some time. But, the process is attracting more attention as the technology gets better and better. The result is a big need to offer more efficient, better working hearing aids that use the very latest in technology.
How it’s Done
Hearing aids taken advantage from the process of 3D printing for some time now – a necessary medium because of the highly customized nature of these devices to each person’s ear. There are some variations on the technology utilized by different companies but the basics are the same. An audiologist may first make a digital image of the ear with the help of a laser scanner to create what’s called a pointcloud. Once the scan is done and a quality check has been performed, the model is ready to be created. What is ejected from the printer is a shell or mold of the hearing aid in a resin form which paves the way for the addition of the proper acoustic vents, electronics and other necessary components. Up to 150,000 points of reference are utilized through digital cameras to help apply the template to the mold. There are so many geometric patterns and combinations that are tested before the final shell is printed, giving you a superior product in terms of efficiency and quality. Once printed, the circuitry — which is like the hearing aid’s road map and actually projects the sound – is added to the shell.
Why it’s Done
More than 10 million 3D printed hearing devices are being used by hearing impaired individuals currently. Some say this is a negative because science has taken over what was once considered to be an art form, but those thoughts are offset by the positives, which include speed and efficiency. When hearing aids are created using additive manufacturing, they make for a better fit and ensure the highest level of comfort for the recipient. Used in conjunction with 3D laser scanning, the entire process can be completed in less than a day. There are several benefits to the utilization of 3D printed hearing aids, the biggest of which is the customization factor. This is extremely important because no two ears are the same, and no two ear canals are the same. The use of traditional manufacturing processes can’t be achieved if you want a perfect fit for every person. This is why the technology is so wonderful for the hearing impaired and medical communities. What once was a fairly work-intensive process is now an automated efficient one that combines technology with practicality.