Traditional manufacturing involves injecting material into a pre-formed shape. 3D printing starts with a 3D model and one layer at a time transforms into a solid form with each layer building upon the layer before. This advancement in technology is creating ear molds that fit snugly and correctly into the ear. It is so compelling that the current fitting process of hearing aids may be at an end.
The Traditional Process
The standard process of creating a hearing aid usually takes about two hours. The general process is as follows:
- The requirements are determined
- Vacuum form of impression
- A cast of finished impression
- Create the shell
- Build the hearing aid into the shell
- Create the circuits
- Assemble the electronic hardware
- Seal and complete the hearing aid
This time-consuming multi-step process can be slow and expensive. 3D printing is a quicker, more efficient method of producing a hearing aid.
The aerospace, automotive, architecture, entertainment, and healthcare industries currently utilize the benefits of 3D printing. The process, also known as additive manufacturing or desktop fabrication, has its beginning around 1986 although it did not attract attention until the 1990’s. This emerging technology is capable of making everything from ceramic cups to plastic toys. Now, 3D printing is creating hearing aid molds.
3D Printing And Hearing Aid Molds
A hearing aid must fit snugly for maximum comfort and benefit. 3D printing technology makes hearing aid molds that fit correctly into the ear of a hearing-impaired individual. Developers are now using this technology to create digital hearing aids that not only fit securely but are barely visible. The necessary steps include scanning, modeling, and printing and the process now accounts for 95% of all-in-the-ear hearing aids manufactured. CAMISHA, which stands for computer-aided manufacturing of individual shells for hearing aids is the process for the creation of the molds:
- A technician makes an impression of the ear canal and then places it into the laser scanner.
- The scanner produces digital images for the scanning computer to provide data analysis.
- The scanning computer then constructs a digital image of the ear canal and edits it for accuracy.
- Finally, the measurements of the digital image become instructions printed onto the material that will be the actual hearing aid shell.
Technology For The Greater Good
Now this remarkable technology is being used to address hearing loss on a larger scale to benefit those in need. The Holy Land Institute for the Deaf is endeavoring to bring 3D printed hearing aid molds to the disadvantaged populations of the Middle East. The traditional process of constructing a hearing aid is often slow and expensive, so combing 3D scanning with 3D printing makes it possible to manufacture hearing aids on a large scale which is ideal for developing countries.
The process of using 3D printers to create hearing aids is a huge technological breakthrough. Not only will it provide a perfectly fitting hearing aid mold for the consumer, but it also appears to be having an international impact as well. The future of this process is promising for the hearing impaired throughout the world.