Why yes, they are! Forget about regular printers you may have in your office for a moment and consider the truly unique factor about 3D printers, which are used to create actual hearing aids. Not really a brand new technology, 3D printing allows for a more efficient process of manufacturing and fitting hearing aids, making sure everyone gets the perfect fit through precision and quality control. This is music to the ears of the 35 million people in the U.S. who have some kind of hearing impairment. Also known as additive manufacturing, this trend is experiencing more attention thanks to the customization and snug fit for each person. Rather than take something away, it adds layer upon layer to achieve the correct fit. As a result, it’s being supported for its increased effectiveness and comfort level afforded to users who can benefit from it. This revolutionary way to develop custom hearing devices means everyone can enjoy a hearing aid that fits well.
What’s so Great About 3D Printed Hearing Devices?
The quick and easy answer is the level of personalization afforded. Perhaps the biggest benefit of 3D printed hearing aids is customization owing to the fact that it’s not a cookie-cutter approach to the industry in any way. Instead, each hearing aid is made with the custom specs that are unique to each individual, which directly contrasts the former way of doing things through traditional manufacturing processes. These tended to take a one-size-fits-all approach, which isn’t the best approach for people who have different sized ear canals. This technology, while not new in and of itself, does greatly impact the hearing impaired and medical communities. Transforming a process that was once pretty labor-intensive into one that’s completely automated is at the crux of this method that helps so many.
The Process from Start to Finish
You may wonder how precision is achieved each and every time? Well, think of the digital image of the ear canal as the blueprint for the entire device. Developed using a laser scanner operated by a skilled audiologist, the model is made from the printer where a shell or mold of the hearing aid is developed out of resin. Quality checked at various stages, this material is flexible and can be customized with integral parts such as acoustic vents and electronics. Digital cameras help to place the template to the mold use 150,000 points of reference, thanks to the testing various geometric patterns and combinations to get the most accurate final product. Sound is processed through special circuitry, and represents the center and purpose of the entire device. This revolutionary process has paved the way for 10 million 3D printed hearing devices currently used by deaf or hearing impaired individuals. Transformed into a near art form, this process amazingly takes just one day in what used to take weeks. Obviously, this is a huge leap forward in the hearing device industry, as 3D printing allows many people to hear better in comfort. Additive manufacturing and 3D laser scanning were born of a need for a more accurate fit through a truly remarkable process.