If you ever heard the term 3D printing, you probably didn’t think it applied to how your hearing aid was made but it does. The creation of state of the art hearing aids is made possible through the use of 3D printing. Although it’s nothing too brand new, it’s still a process that revolutionizes the industry thanks to the precision and ease of manufacturing it fosters. 3D printing has another name: additive manufacturing, which refers to the process of adding to something to build it up rather than take layers away with precision tools. When hearing aids are developed using additive manufacturing, they make for a better fit and ensure the highest level of comfort for the recipient. Already, 10 million 3D printed hearing devices are being used by deaf or hearing impaired individuals at this moment.
Advantages of 3D Printed Hearing Aids
There are many advantages to using 3D printed hearing aids, particularly the ability to customize the product specifically to one person’s ear. This is a crucial component, as all ears are different in minute ways. If you used traditional manufacturing processes, it would be hard to achieve a perfect fit for every person. Consequently, technology represents a big effect on the hearing impaired and medical communities as a whole. This formerly labor-intensive process is now an automated, more efficient one that takes a fraction of the time and offers practicality for a custom fit.
From Lots of Steps to Just a Few
What once used to involve a week of nine steps to make by many technicians and artisans, now takes just a day thanks to the scientific application of 3D printing. Now, it only takes three steps: scan, model and print. Easy, right? Not really. It does save time but it still involves precision and a computer. This digitized process involves the use of a 3D scanner to produce an impression of the ear. This uses lasers that draw from up to 150,000 points of reference through the utilization of digital cameras. This scan is then sent to a technician who applies shapes and templates to the mold. This is when testing takes place using many combinations and geometric patterns to make each one customized. Shells of resin are printed, and then acoustic vents and electronics that make up the technical aspect of the hearing aid are added. In this manner, printers can create nearly 70 shells or 50 molds in up to an hour and a half. The speed of printing and the digital nature of the process translates to the personalization for the ultimate in prototyping and manufacturing.