You may know it by its more technical term, additive manufacturing, which means layer upon layer is added to a prototype rather than taken away with tools like lathes. This is crucial to the $2 billion a year hearing aid industry that is expected to grow three percent by 2016. This would have been impossible without the use of 3D printing and laser scanning, which all synchronize together to automate the process, reduce time of manufacture and create a customized product. Several more benefits are on their way for a growing technology called 3D printing. It has been around for a decade now, especially in the use of making hearing aids, but also in electronics, jewelry and art. One big benefit to this revolutionary way of manufacturing hearing devices is that it leads to fewer mistakes, reduced manufacture times and increased precision for each and every product. That’s because a computer is involved. Back when traditional manufacturing processes were used, the hearing aid wearer may have been uncomfortable wearing the device because it didn’t fit snug in the ear. Maybe it wiggled, or maybe it was too tight. Whatever the case, hearing aids weren’t designed as an exact match to fit the individual as they are today with 3D printing. This has led to a big boost comfort and precision with little to no margin for error. Combining computers and laser scanners offers a can’t-miss combination.
Nine Steps to Three
What used to be a time-consuming nine-step process now takes just a day thanks to the scientific application of 3D printing. Before, this was a highly involved method that took many technicians and artisans a week to complete. Now, there are just three steps involved with 3D printing: scan, model and print. This helps to reduce the time to manufacture, but 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.
The Way it Works
Incredibly, within an hour and a half, nearly 70 shells or 50 molds can be created by the printers. This offers such a great increase in speed and efficiency that accuracy is not compromised. Each device is thus personalized for a more precise prototype and manufactured product. A 3D scanner is used as part of the digitized process to come up with an impression of the ear via special lasers that use up to 150,000 points of reference. This is all made possible thanks to digital cameras that send the images to the technician, who can apply the scan to various geometric shapes and templates and form a mold. Several combinations and geometric patterns are explored to ensure the right fit. The result is a resin shells that is printed and fitted with all the proper acoustic vents, electronics and other circuitry that can amplify sound. If you’re wearing a hearing aid right now, there’s a pretty good chance it was created through 3D printing technology. It’s designed to address the individual needs of the 35 million people in this country who suffer from hearing loss of some kind. As a result, there are an incredible 10 million 3D printed hearing devices in circulation at this time.