If you ever heard the term 3D printing, you probably didn’t think it applied to hearing aids. Well, 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 created using additive manufacturing, they make for a better fit and ensure the highest level of comfort for the recipient. It’s true that 10 million 3D printed hearing devices are being used by deaf or hearing impaired individuals at this moment.
This type of 3D printing has been gaining momentum in the industry due to the boost in the precision of the process. It’s actually used quite often in manufacturing, jewelry, art and electronics. The hearing aid business has been benefiting from the approach for many years, helping people all over the world hear better and feel more comfortable. Actually, 35 million Americans have a hearing impairment, and are thus benefiting from the science of 3D printing. Accuracy, speed and efficiency are at the forefront of this, along with customization – an integral component because no two ear canals are the same. Traditional manufacturing processes never could ensure a perfect unique fit for each user, so as a result, many imperfections were present that detracted from the comfort level for each person. The advent of 3D printing represents a big influence on the industry as a whole.
The whole process only takes a day to do, which is much less time than it used to take. In addition to the decrease in time for manufacturing, 3D printing offers a truly custom fit for the individual. The process begins with the creation of a pointcloud by an audiologist, which is really just a digital image of the ear using a laser scanner. A quality check is required, then the shell or mold is produced from the printer that is comprised of a resin material. This flexible material will fit inside the ear perfectly. But first, the acoustic vents, electronics and other components must be added, thanks to the benefit of nearly 150,000 points of reference obtained via digital cameras to apply the template to the mold. Audiologists can test a variety of geometric patterns and combinations prior to printing the final shell. Circuitry is then added, which is what is responsible for amplifying the sound. The proof shows in the millions of 3D printed hearing devices in circulation within the hearing impaired community currently.