Do 3D Printed Hearing Aids Work?
New technology is exciting. It opens our eyes to the possibilities of science. One of the latest innovations in the hearing aid space is in relation to how these devices are made.
3D printing is a repetitive process whereby layers of printing medium build up to create a two- or three-dimensional object. If this were half a tube cut down the middle for example, we could join two together to create a little pipe. Hearing aid shells are a popular example of this technique.
This is a marked improvement over old-fashioned die casting, whereby liquid material was poured into a negative version of the shape. Moreover, three-dimensional printing produces a more precise, incredibly detailed product.
In this article, we detail how and if 3D printed hearing aids are all they are cracked up to be.
3D Printing Hearing Aids Are Not Rocket Science
Companies like Sonova have been using 3D printing technology for several decades. Most everybody else in the industry has caught up. In fact, if you are wearing a hearing aid right now, there a good chance the shell and ear pieces / grommets were turned out by a 3D printing robot.
Here’s an Example of Custom Earpieces Made That Way
- A technician makes a silicon mold of a customer’s outer ear canal
- They then scan this into their computer using laser technology
- A mold factory receives the image by email and loads it to a 3D printer
- The printer uses layers of acrylic resin to create a custom earpiece
- A courier delivers the acrylic piece to the technician for follow-through
Most hearing aid cases are manufactured the same way, but in two halves to create the space where the electronics go. Robots create the final assembly in a dust-free space, overseen, for now, by a human being.
A Silent 3D Printing Revolution That’s a Mystery for Many
3D technology crept up on us, not when we were asleep, but also while we were wide awake too. Although acrylics are still the most popular ‘ink’, hot metals and ceramics are increasingly popular, especially for circuit boards and electronic components.
The hearing aid industry is one of the forerunners in the domestic appliance industry, because of the opportunity of scaling up production with 3D printed hearing aid shells. However, the savings seldom knock through to customers with the notable exception of Blue Angels products.
Hence, there may be as many as ten million 3D hearing aids in circulation worldwide. In fact, one leading 3D printer supplier claims the majority of all hearing aids are made that way today.
Streamlining Custom Hearing Aids
The trend is towards removing people from the process, and replacing them with more robots, which is what 3D printers are. This introduces more science to a traditional art form, and the customer wins with better-fitting hearing aids. However, unfortunately most hearing aids are still expensive.
Introducing 3D printed hearing aids should speed up the process in a high-tech industry where time is money. The process begins with scanning ear shapes to find a ‘golden mean’, where one casing should fit sufficiently well for one million customers.
After that, robots set to work producing beautifully-crafted, seamless hearing aid cases just like the ones Blue Angels sells. They truly are ‘little wonders of giant technology’ that already helped 30,000 customers improve their quality of life.
The next step could be making custom hearing shells for discerning users prepared to pay a higher price for exclusivity. Our industry is not there yet, but there are other exciting ideas on the horizon.
Could Antibacterial Hearing Aids Prevent Ear Infections?
Scientists at University College London are experimenting with printing 3D hearing aid cases loaded with two antibiotics, and manufactured from two polymer resins. They have successfully demonstrated their idea is feasible, and it could be a great idea in future.
Could I Make My Own 3D Printed Hearing Aids?
It’s entirely possible you could, in theory at least. 3D printing is a popular U.S. pastime, where hobbyists reproduce everyday objects in every shape and form you could imagine. We found 3D printers from a couple hundred dollars on Amazon in semi-assembled kit form.
But you would still need to purchase a laser device to capture an image, and acrylic ink to print the shells. However, unless you were technically brilliant with electronics that could just be where your journey ends.
It could be simpler, cheaper and faster to order from Blue Angels.
The Blue Angels hearing aid company in Seattle has mail-order hearing aids available off the shelf for remarkably low prices. We believe in removing unnecessary steps in the process, and passing the savings to customers.
Those prices you’ll see if you click on that link include everything you need to start hearing better, without seeing an audiologist, ordering a mold and sitting through a hearing test. We offer a money back guarantee if you find they do not work for you, although to be honest this would be an unusually rare event.