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Audiology Industry Page

3D printers are in a prime position to help audiology professionals provide better care. Hearing issues can have a tremendous negative impact on your patients’ quality of life. Unfortunately, hearing aids can be costly and difficult to manufacture. 3D printers enable you to produce customized, perfectly fitted hearing aids, headphones, and other audiology devices. They can significantly lower production costs and shorten lead times while offering an unmatched boost in productivity. The sound of a running printer is music to the ears of audiology professionals and their patients.

3D Printing in the Audiology Industry

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Customisation

3D printers have been used in audiology for multiple years, but technological advancements are quickly taking them to a whole new level. Customisation remains the driving force, but additive manufacturing has much more to offer. Creative audiology professionals are implementing 3D printers in various ways.

The ability to create fully individualised and customised products is the single greatest strength of 3D printing. Although it was possible to create custom hearing aids before 3D printing, the conventional process is costly and time-intensive.

In additive manufacturing, hearing aids, ear moulds, and other components are stored as digital CAD models prior to printing. These digital files are fast and easy to modify with 3D modelling software, allowing you to efficiently create purpose-built devices.

But 3D technologies can also support traditional working methods. With a 3D scanner, it’s possible to digitise objects like ear canal moulds for further processing and customisation.

The Listening Stack Creates Custom Ear Moulds with SLA Printing

TLS Sound Labs is an American hearing aid and headphone provider for medical and speciality purposes. Conventionally, TLS has hand-crafted in-ear moulds for hearing aids. This process has been slow, expensive, and prone to errors.

To improve its mould production workflows, TLS adopted Formlabs SLA 3D printers. The company still collect an ear canal impression manually, but this impression is now scanned into a digital file in 30 seconds. Digital editing and 3D printing have reduced the number of faulty moulds by 40% while slashing manufacturing costs by another 40%.

“As demand increases, so will our need for efficient high-quality production. I can buy one commercial 3D printer for the same cost as 10 Formlabs printers, and with the Form Cell I don’t have to worry about all the tedious work. It’s a no-brainer for us!” said Justin Stack, founder of TLS Sound Labs.

Production Efficiency

Conventional manufacturing is geared toward large-scale mass production. As such, they may not be an ideal fit for audiology applications. Producing devices and parts through traditional methods can result in slow production times and high costs.

3D printers, on the other hand, shine in low-volume manufacturing of accurate, high-quality components. They can produce dozens of components in hours, offering a significant productivity boost.

Additionally, by producing parts in-house with a 3D printer, you’ll completely remove delivery and shipping from the equation. You’ll save money on shipping costs and won’t have to worry about supply chain problems.

WS Audiology Replaces Robotic Manufacturing with 3D Printing

WS Audiology, a major hearing aid company, used to rely on injection-moulded parts. Due to the tiny size of these components — down to 8 x 3 mm — handling them required robotic machinery. But the robotic arms could lose their grip or damage the components.

Now, WS Audiology uses the 3D Systems Figure 4 printer to produce both prototype and end-use hearing aid shells and soft-grip grippers for the robot arms. It can now get its parts in 1-2 days and improved its annual productivity by eight-fold.

“The current production volume today is about 200 grippers, 100 jigs and fixtures, and 500+ prototypes per year, so we make good use of our investment,” said Henry Fredriksen, WS Audiology Tool Designer.

Design and Prototyping

Prototyping is particularly important in audiology. Hearing aids must be efficient and well-designed for maximum comfort and efficiency. However, traditional manufacturing can make the design process slow and significantly increase the time to market.

3D printing was once known simply as “rapid prototyping.” Although their uses have now expanded far beyond this initial application, fast and cheap prototyping is still 3D printers’ forte.

With their fast production speed and wide materials options, 3D printers enable manufacturers to iterate on a design potentially several times each day. You’ll see a faster time to market and save on design process costs.

Sennheiser Provides Custom-Built Headphones for Music Lovers

Audio equipment manufacturer Sennheiser is famous for high-quality headphones. True to its reputation, the company was looking to offer affordable and easily customizable headphones for its customers. To achieve this goal, the company teamed up with Formlabs.

During the project, the two companies developed a method for customers to scan their ear’s shape with a normal smartphone. The scan is sent to Formlabs PreForm software which prepares the print file. Finally, a 3D printer prints a prototype of the customised earbud for further production.

“We are very excited about the concept of custom fit to deliver a custom experience to further enhance immersive listening. Formlabs shares Sennheiser’s drive for innovation and improving the customer experience through this prototype is a testament to that mindset,” said Veronique Larcher, Director of AMBERO Immersive Audio at Sennheiser.

Medical Device Production

Although the most revolutionary applications of 3D printing in audiology are related directly to the production of hearing aids and earbuds, that’s not all the technology can do. There are many 3D printing technologies on the market and some are more suitable for supporting medical and manufacturing professionals.

FFF printers, like those from Ultimaker, can print with a wide range of plastic materials. They can produce tools, jigs and fixtures, handles, hooks, and many other tools and parts to make life easier for audiology professionals. By using reinforced filaments, you can even print parts that are stronger than metal and can replace mechanical components in machinery used for hearing aid production.

Print a Free Open-Source Otoscope

E4RDesigns is a Canadian project that produces free, open-source audiology tools. Anyone can download the CAD files for the tools and appliances and print them.

Among the available designs is a customizable otoscope. Audiology professionals can tweak the tool to their needs and then print it with any 3D printer capable of processing medical-grade materials.

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