You may not have thought hearing aids could be made from the process of 3D printing, but it’s true. In fact, it’s not even a very new concept and has been in deployment for years in making custom fit hearing aids. Perhaps you know it by its alternative name: additive manufacturing. 3D printing has been garnering more and more attention thanks to the increased precision of the process whereby products like hearing aids are built up instead of cut away with tools. Its reach extends to all sorts of technologies, from manufacturing to jewelry to electronics, but it’s especially helpful in the development of custom hearing aids. This revolutionary way of manufacturing devices like these is of paramount importance because it helps so many people to hear better. And with 35 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, this is certainly a goal of the industry as a whole: to produce more efficient hearing aids that utilize the best technology has to offer.
How it Happens
Hearing aids have been created via 3D printing for years because it’s a customized way of making hearing aids fit to an individual. Everyone’s ears are unique, and this has presented a problem in the past for cookie-cutter hearing aids. With 3D printing, your hearing aid fits you and only you. When additive manufacturing is used, the end result is an improved fit and a higher comfort level for the user. Used in parallel with 3D laser scanning, it only takes a day to make a hearing aid in this way, as opposed to days and weeks prior to this technology breaking through. While there are certainly variations on the technology utilized by different companies, the basic premise is the same. The process is performed by an audiologist whose job it is to make a digital image of the ear with the help of a laser scanner. This makes what’s known as a pointcloud. When finished scanning, a quality check must be done before the actual model can be made. Out of the printer comes a shell or mold of the hearing aid in a flexible material called resin, paving the way for the addition of the proper acoustic vents, electronics and other components. Digital cameras facilitate the use of a whopping 150,000 points of reference that put the template to the mold, while many geometric patterns and combinations undergo testing before printing the final shell. The superior product that is created is so efficient and high in quality that the individual will benefit from this in the long haul. Once printed, the hearing aid benefits from the addition of the circuitry to the shell. This is basically the hearing aid’s road map to project the actual sound. Today, more than 10 million 3D printed hearing devices are in circulation, helping hearing impaired individuals to hear crystal clear. Although some may say science has taken over what was once considered an art form of sorts, you can’t second guess the speed and efficiency with which this technology has delivered.
Benefits of Creating 3D Printed Hearing Aids
Customization is the top benefit to this technology – an extremely important component because no two ear canals are the same. Traditional manufacturing processes never could guarantee a perfect unique fit for each user; therefore, many imperfections were present that detracted from the comfort level. The advent of 3D printing has had a big effect on the industry as a whole, propelling it to new and varied heights.