In short, the wearer gets a superior fit that’s just not possible with standard one-size-fits-all devices that have been made the traditional way. With such a high level of personalization and the fact that the process takes a day compared with a week the traditional way, it’s a no-brainer that 3D printing has really taken off. Using custom specs taken by laser scanner, each device is created unique to each individual. This is in contrast with the former way of doing things through traditional manufacturing processes. Standard templates don’t accommodate for the different sized ear canals of people with hearing impairments. This technology, while not new per se, certainly impacts the hearing impaired and medical communities. Transforming a process that was once quite labor-intensive into one that’s completely automated is at the heart of this method that helps so many.
Achieving the Perfect Fit
If you’re wondering how is precision achieved each and every time, there’s a method to the madness. A digital image of the ear canal, created using a laser scanner, is taken by a skilled audiologist. After a comprehensive quality check, a model is made from the printer where a shell or mold of the hearing aid is developed out of is a material called resin. This material is flexible and contains all the crucial components to the device, such as acoustic vents and electronics. Digital cameras that assist in putting the template to the mold use 150,000 points of reference, testing various geometric patterns and combinations to get the most accurate final product. Sound, amplified through special circuitry, is the heart of the device. This revolutionary process, resulting in about 10 million 3D printed hearing devices currently used by deaf or hearing impaired individuals, has been transformed into a completely automated process. The shows a huge leap forward in the hearing device industry, where 3D printing allows many people to hear better in comfort. Born from a need to achieve a more accurate fit, additive manufacturing and 3D laser scanning are used in conjunction to achieve this method.
From Art Form to Scientific Process
Also called additive manufacturing, which means layer upon layer is added rather than taken away with tools like lathes, the $2 billion a year hearing aid industry benefits from processes like 3D printing. Formerly impossible to achieve such growth, 3D printing and laser scanning work in tandem to automate the process and create a reduction in manufacturing times and costs. Formerly, this used to take up to nine steps to achieve one hearing aid; now it takes just a day thanks to the scientific application of 3D printing. Instead of taking technicians and artisans a week to complete, there are only three steps involved with 3D printing. They include scan, model and print. Although it still takes some intense precision to get the process exactly right, this growing technology is certainly making the medical and hearing impaired communities take notice.