When you talk about 3D printing, words you may say or hear include accuracy, speed, customization and efficiency. That’s because these words are a direct by-product of this emerging technology used in conjunction with laser scans. Just a decade ago, with traditional manufacturing, many imperfections were present that really took away the comfort factor for each individual. It took a week or more to make a single hearing aid but with the continuing advancement of 3D printing, everyone gets a piece of the pie. The universe of 3D printing has definitely opened up the way these devices are made. It’s about time the 35 million hearing-impaired Americans benefit from a procedure that creates a seamless fit in terms of the manufacture of individual hearing aids. Nothing is left to chance, and all processes are systematically synchronized to allow a single hearing aid to be made from a laser scan.
Streamlined the Process
It’s pretty neat that a hearing aid can be constructed in less than a day thanks to the advancements inherent in 3D laser scanning and 3D printing combined. Each company does things a little bit different, but it’s the same protocol, and it all starts with an audiologist. This professional creates digital image of the individual’s ear using a laser scanner to create what’s a pointcloud, which is like a map of what’s to come. Once the scan is finished, the audiologist goes over everything to make sure nothing has been missed. That’s when the model is ready to be made. A shell or mold of the hearing aid in a resin form is created from the printer, allowing 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; in addition, there are several geometric patterns and combinations that are tested before the final shell is printed. Added last to the shell is the circuitry — which acts as the hearing aid’s road map and actually projects the sound. Hard to believe 10 million 3D printed hearing devices are being used by hearing impaired individuals right at this moment.
Packing a Punch
Getting some serious credit in the industry, 3D printing is known for its boost in the precision of the process – actually used quite often in manufacturing, jewelry, art and electronics. Now, the hearing aid business has been benefiting from the approach as it helps people all over the globe hear better and feel more comfortable while donning the device. Were you aware that 35 million Americans have a hearing impairment? This is why the science of 3D printing can really help them, thanks to the three major components of accuracy, speed and efficiency. Now much more than just an art form, customization is possible across the board – a necessary factor where comfort is involved. Traditional manufacturing processes never really could make sure each person got a unique fit. Thanks to 3D printing, individuals with hearing impairments have a whole new world opened up to them.