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Helping people hear better is the goal of 3D printing technology, which is critical to the more than 35 million people in this country who suffer from hearing impairments of some kind. As such, a need has been identified to make a more efficient, better working hearing aids that use the very best in technology. Enter 3D printing — also referred to as additive manufacturing. This process entails making hearing aids that provide a perfectly customizable fi, although the technology isn’t really new. It’s actually been used in the manufacture of hearing aids for quite some time. However, the process is attracting more attention as the technology gets better and better. Additive manufacturing involves adding to a product layer by layer rather than cutting away at it with tools like lathes. It’s used in all sorts of industries but its use in the hearing aid sector gets the most attention because of its precision.

3D Laser Scanning Breakthroughs

Hearing aids have been manufactured piece by piece by the advent of 3D printing for years because it’s a customized way of making hearing aids to fit each person. That’s because, like a snowflake, everyone’s ears are unique. This has presented a problem in the past for standardized hearing aids. With 3D printing, your hearing aid fits you and only you. When additive manufacturing is used, the end result is an improved fit and a higher comfort level for the user. Used in parallel with 3D laser scanning, it only takes a day to make a hearing aid in this way, as opposed to days and weeks prior to this technology breaking through. The process, performed by an audiologist whose job it is to make a digital image of the ear with the help of a laser scanner, creates what’s known as a pointcloud. When finished scanning, a quality check must be done before the actual model can be made. Out of the printer comes a shell or mold of the hearing aid in a flexible material called resin, paving the way for the addition of the proper acoustic vents, electronics and other components. Digital cameras take into account 150,000 points of reference that put the template to the mold, while many geometric patterns and combinations undergo testing before printing the final shell. The superior product that is created is so efficient and high in quality that the individual will benefit from this in the long haul. Once printed, the hearing aid benefits from the addition of the circuitry to the shell. This is basically the hearing aid’s blueprint to project the actual sound into the ear.

Gaining Momentum

This type of 3D printing has been gaining some serious oomph in the industry due to the boost in the precision of the process. It’s actually used quite often in manufacturing, jewelry, art and electronics. The hearing aid business has been benefiting from the approach for many years, helping people all over the world hear better and feel more comfortable. Actually, 35 million Americans have a hearing impairment. They are the ones benefiting from the science of 3D printing, which used to be more of an art form. Accuracy, speed and efficiency are at the forefront of this, along with customization – an integral component because no two ear canals are the same. Traditional manufacturing processes never could ensure a perfect unique fit for each user, so this is why many imperfections were present that took away from the comfort level for each person. The advent of 3D printing represents a big influence on the industry overall.