From bones to guns, the technology of 3d printing has been evolving since the past few decades. But few would have thought its use in hearing aids! Yes you heard it right! The modern day hearing devices are being created with the help of 3d printing technology. If you opted for one recently, then you will be surprised to know that you are already a part of this 3d printing technology.
What is 3d Printing Technology?
3d printing is a technology that encompasses in its scope the creation of physical objects from a three-dimensional computer image. In other words, this technology refers to a complex set of procedures in which a three-dimensional object is created by joining or solidifying various materials like liquid molecules or powder grains under computer control. The greatest advantage of using this technology in the manufacturing of digital hearing aids is that it is flexible with literally any shape and size, no matter how complicated it is. Today all the shells of some custom-made in-the-ear and even various models of behind-the-ear and receiver-in-canal hearing aids are being made using 3d printers.
How it Progressed from Nothing!
At the very beginning, when digitalisation did not set its roots in every field, only the modelers had the capability of producing digital hearing aids by creating each model by hand. Needless to say, that it is really very time-consuming and costly as well. People in these days used analog hearing aids, as digital ones were either unavailable as digital technology was not much developed back then, or even if they were somehow imported, were much higher in costs, which not many could bear. The analog hearing aid, which did nothing more than just amplifying the sound, was the sole device that could be relied on by the hearing impaired people.
The years 2001-2002 saw the introduction of digital technology in the manufacturing of custom in-the-ear hearing aids. Gradually, engineers started developing the necessary tools such as scanner, printer, and the required softwares for programming and designing the hearing devices.
At the beginning of the millennium, Sonova was the first company to introduce 3d printing technology into the shells of the custom-made in-the-ear, behind-the-ear and receiver-in-canal hearing aids. From this time onwards, manufacturers from across the globe started probing deep into the various possibilities of introducing more innovative techniques into digital hearing aids. Today a majority of the hearing aids worldwide are manufactured with the help of this 3d printing technology. This technology has replaced the previous manual and labor-intensive technology with the all new automated one.
Previously, approximately nine steps were followed in the making of digital hearing aids, ranging from the creation of cast moulds to converting them into ear impressions to trimming and shaping the final hearing aid shell. The whole process was manual, which took more than a week. Not only that, the hearing aids which were made in this fashion were almost always alike, which gave rise to various fitment issues. However, after the introduction of the 3d printing technology in listening devices, it was reduced to three stages, which are scanning, modeling and printing. Therefore, today, a single day sees the manufacture of hundreds of digital hearing aids in a single company. Now custom fits are no longer an issue with listening devices that are 3d printed, and nor is time.
How is the Whole Process Carried Out?
At first, silicon impressions of the ear canal (which are still taken manually by hand) are being scanned with the help of laser technology and are then monitored in various computer softwares. The Audiologist then further processes and positions the internal programmes of the digital hearing aids in these software applications. Once the hearing aid shell is being processed and finalised, it is stored in 3d format and then sent to 3d printers. The whole process of printing digital hearing aids using 3d printers is quite a fascinating one to watch. Layer upon layer of acrylic resin is being added up to form a new hearing aid shell, from absolutely nothing.
Today this technology has become so advanced and easy-to-use that it is now able to mass produce millions of digital hearing aids in a single day. Not only that, the most wonderful part of 3d printing technology is that each hearing device is made so flexible that it can be tailored to suit the individual and customised needs of the wearer. So don’t sit back; just go ahead and opt for any of the nice looking digital hearing aids, and leave the rest upon the device. This opens wide the windows to new possibilities of introducing more and more innovative techniques in hearing devices.