How 3D Printing is Transforming the Hearing Aid Industry

Explore how 3d printing technology is transforming the hearing aid industry.

How 3D Printing is Transforming the Hearing Aid Industry

You might not believe it, but 3D printing technology is also being used to create hearing aids. The application of 3D technology is no longer just limited to electronics, manufacturing, and jewellery. It is notably useful in the development of customized hearing aids too.

This is because of the greater precision of 3D printing that allows the aids to be built rather than hacked away with tools, and the innovation has garnered a lot of attention in recent times. Wait, what? Are you still not familiar with this 3D printing revolution? Well, for your understanding, we first need to have clarity on customized 3D printed hearing aids. And then, subsequently, we can delve into the intricacies of this ingenious device.

Understanding Exactly What Customized Hearing Aids Are and The Role Of 3D Printing in Them

Customized hearing aids are specifically designed to fit one’s ears. These devices, at their most basic level, gather up audio from our surroundings and magnify it into the ears of people with impaired hearing. The aids come in a variety of styles, but personalized ones are truly one-of-a-kind. 3D printing technology has made a major shift in the custom-made hearing aid segment, especially in the case of In-the-Canal (ITC) and In-the-Ear (ITE) devices, while the more widespread Behind-the-Ear (BTE) models continue to use traditional manufacturing methods. Custom-fit 3D printed hearing aids are far more comfortable than their retail equivalents as they are modelled after a patient's anatomy. They have a better fit that eliminates slippage or movement within the ear. Almost all in-the-canal devices, particularly those worn deep within the ear canal, are sold as custom models.

The image is used for illustration purposes. Zeal 3D is not the owner or creator of the image.

What Goes into Making Customized Hearing Aids?

The result of using 3D printing solutions in the creation of customized hearing aids is a better fit and greater user comfort. When used in conjunction with 3D laser scanning, making a hearing aid takes only a day, as opposed to days or weeks in the past. While different organizations use different technologies, the primary mechanism remains the same. An audiologist performs the procedure, which involves using a laser scanner to create a digital image of the ear. A point cloud is created in this way. Before the real model can be built, the quality of the scan must be checked. A mould or shell of the hearing aid made of a flexible substance called resin emerges from the 3D printer, allowing for the installation of circuitry, acoustic vents, and other parts. Many geometric shapes and combinations are tested before printing the final shell, thanks to the use of digital cameras that employ 150,000 points of reference to align the template with the mould. The improved product generated is so effective and high-quality that the individual will benefit in the long run. The insertion of circuitry into the shell enhances the hearing aid once it is built.

What's The Big Deal About 3D Printed Hearing Aids?

In traditional hearing aids, the ear canal is modelled by injecting silicone into the patient's ear. Using this mould, the hearing aid is cast in its final form. The rest of the components are manually inserted by a technician. Prior to being finally delivered to the patient, it must undergo multiple stages of testing and polishing. While accurate, this process is slow and expensive. On the other hand, 3D technology enables resin 3D printers to print hearing aids. Unlike pre-3D printing times, this process can be finished in just a day’s time.

Benefits Of 3D-Printed Hearing Aids

  • Convenient, Quick and Takes Little Labour- Several steps are involved in the traditional method, such as mould making, polishing, cutting, agar mould making, wax hanging, mould repair, negative mould making, and assembly, which are labour-intensive and time-consuming processes. By utilizing a 3D printing service from a professional firm, everything from taking moulds to scanning, designing, printing, processing, and assembling can be automated, which reduces the production time and enhances the experience of the wearer. 
  • Mass Production of Custom-Fit Units Made Possible- In an hour, audiology 3D printed solutions can manufacture up to fifty customized 3D-printed hearing aid moulds or shells, making mass production a reality. 
  • Highly Accurate Moulds Every Time- Custom-fit 3D hearing aid shells are manufactured more precisely than silicone moulds, allowing for faster shell completion. Because they are based on the anatomy of each patient, these custom models are far more comfortable than their retail counterparts.
  • Demands Fewer Resources- With 3D printing, each hearing aid requires fewer resources. Previously, once a negative silicone mould was cast, it could not be reused because it was specific to each patient. Shells made from 3D printing still require a positive impression of the ear canal. However, the negative moulds are replaced with scans of the impression, saving materials, and cutting costs. 

Final Thoughts

Custom 3D hearing aids, 3D laser scanning, and additive manufacturing in the hearing aid industry were born out of a need for a more precise fit, and are, as we can see, changing lives for millions of people worldwide. If you are looking for a 3D print service in Melbourne, there are plenty of professional 3D printing firms to choose from. 

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