Also called additive manufacturing, 3D printing to create hearing aids is not exactly new. It’s something that’s been going on in the hearing device industry for a few years now, but the process is garnering more and more attention.
Basically, this is the process whereby products like hearing aids are built up instead of cut away, as you would see in the case of cutting tools such as lathes. While its reach extends to all kinds of technologies, the hearing aid industry is at the forefront of this revolution because it helps so many people to hear better. With 35 million Americans suffering from hearing loss of some kind, this is boost for the industry as a whole to provide more efficient, better working hearing aids that utilize the best technology has to offer.
How Does it Work?
Hearing aids have benefited 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. 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 done in less than a day. There are variations on the technology utilized by different companies. Your Houston or Katy 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 finished and a quality check has been performed, the model is ready to be made. What emerges 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 components. Up to 150,000 points of reference are used through digital cameras to help apply the template to the mold. There are many geometric patterns and combinations that are tested before the final shell is printed.
The result? A superior product in terms of efficiency and quality. Once printed, the circuitry — which acts as the hearing aid’s road map and actually projects the sound – is added to the shell. Amazingly, more than 10 million 3D printed hearing devices are being used by hearing impaired individuals currently. One could argue that science has taken over what was once considered to be an art form of sorts. But there is no denying the speed and efficiency with which this technology has propelled the hearing device industry.
Benefits of 3D Printed Hearing Aids
There are several benefits to the utilization of 3D printed hearing aids, not the least 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 is nearly impossible if you want to get a perfect fit for every person. This is why the technology represents such a high-impact effect on the hearing impaired and medical communities. What once was a fairly labor-intensive process is now an automated efficient one that combines technology with practicality for a custom fit each and every time.
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