3D Printing Makes a Perfect Match

The hearing aid industry is looking at unprecedented growth that is predicted to increase by 2016 by almost three percent. It’s already at $2 billion each year, thanks in large part to the growing use of 3D printing and laser scanning to manufacture hearing devices. The industry has sorely been in need of automated machines that reduce time and labor while boosting efficiency. In many companies, reduced manufacturing costs have yet to be seen because the equipment is so expensive, but this doesn’t stop 3D printing from being praised for its streamlined efficiency on the factory floor. The best part is, it only takes a single day to create. Hearing aids made in this revolutionary manner, combining 3D printing and laser scanning, result in a customized fit for the wearer. Before, with traditional manufacturing processes, a person could experience a less than perfect fit. Now, there is no room for error and what results is a perfect match that makes the person feel as if they’re not even wearing a device at all. Increasing comfort with automated processes is at the heart of 3D printing – which is thought to only be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits to the industry.

Most Hearing Aids Now Created Through 3D Printing

What once used to take a week through a convoluted nine-step process and the hard work of technicians and artisans, now takes just a day thanks to the scientific application of 3D printing. If you’re sporting a hearing aid right now, it was likely made using 3D printing technology. With 35 million people in this country who suffer from hearing impairments and 10 million 3D printed hearing devices in circulation, you can bet this technology has contributed to the comfort and peace of mind of many. And it’s only growing. Its technical term is additive manufacturing, which means layer upon layer is added rather than stripped away. The process now only has three fairly simple steps: scan, model and print.

A Changed Process

As opposed to traditional manufacturing, which took several people from start to finish to handle production of one hearing aid, 3D printing speeds up this process while maximizing efficiency. While it still takes a fair amount of precision to get the process just right, 3D printing involves the use of a special laser scanner to produce a perfect impression of the ear. This is because 150,000 points of reference are inferred through the utilization of digital cameras to create a scan received by the technician. This professional applies shapes and templates to the mold, then tests many combinations and geometric patterns to make each one customized. Shells of resin are printed, and then acoustic vents and electronics that make up the technical aspect of the hearing aid are added. In this manner, printers can create nearly 70 shells or 50 molds in up to an hour and a half. The speed of printing and the digital nature of the process mean each device can be personalized for the ultimate fit.