How Will 3D printing Affect Our Hearing Aids?

Deafinprison Logo 1modBy Supporter Contributor Marcela De Vivo

Over the years, the need for hearing aids has reached a high volume. People are living longer (and thus, more people are dealing with later-life ailments) and they are more likely to listen to music at high decibel-levels.

Fortunately, hearing aid technology is keeping up with the pace of such losses. Back in the 1950’s, hearing aids came tethered to a battery pack the size of an old Walkman, with earpieces just as unwieldy and visually unappealing. Since then, innovations have been made to make earbuds more streamlined and more efficient and funneling in sounds.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Now, the labs of manufacturers at Widex have unveiled what may be the gold-standard for unobtrusive, comfortable and effective hearing aids—and, amazingly, they are generated using 3D printers. Since 3D printer technology is by itself breaking news to many people, let’s take a look at the miracle of this new technology.

The Magic of CAMISHA

The proper name for Widex’s award-winning avant-garde earpiece is CAMISHA, an acronym for “computer-aided manufacturing for individual shells for hearing aids”. Here’s how CAMISHA does its work:

First, a mold of the ear canal is made by injecting liquid silicone into the patient’s ear. It’s here that the computer technology begins to play its crucial role. The mold is scanned through 3D imaging systems that operate with laser precision. Once CAMISHA’s computer has captured its data banks, it reverses the scanning process by “printing” an earpiece that matches the mold–and the user’s ear–perfectly.

If you are not yet familiar with 3D printer technology, think of it as a sophisticated version of a dot-matrix printer–but instead of producing a 2D stream of dots, it builds up vertically, laying down 0.1mm layers of photo-acrylic gel instead of ink.

Image Courtesy of David Benbennick/Wikimedia Commons
Image Courtesy of David Benbennick/Wikimedia Commons

Once the custom-made plastic shell has been printed, the rest is relatively simple. The micro-sized hardware–a standardized microphone, a receiver, a battery and a computer chip–are are carefully nestled into the earpiece…and the product is finished.

The Benefits of 3D Hearing Aids

Since computer-controlled, laser-executed technology is used at all stages of the game, CAMISHA’s earbuds fit the canal like an extension of the human body. This allows for more natural collection of sounds from the environment, as “wild” background noises are screened out. Using the hearing aid’s remote control, you can customize both the volume and the source of sounds you’d like to take in.

It makes sense that this technology provides the most customized hearing aid experience, yet devised, which maximizes not only sound performance, but comfort as as well. Accordingly, nearly all made-to-order hearing aids today utilize CAMISHA technology, a patent coup that has been a boon to Widex.

A current drawback is the prohibitive price tag of this emerging technology, as models made from CAMISHA start at around $1,000. Fortunately, as 3D printer technology advances, this is likely to change. By this summer, consumer-end retailers, such as Office Max and Staples, will offer home 3D printers for around $1,200. While these printers will not be nuanced enough to do the delicate printing needed for earbuds, that step will not be far away.

Because the minuscule proportions of these hearing aids make them prime suspects for being lost or stolen, the option of printing replacements at home will be revolutionary. Since it’s highly unlikely that our ear canals will change their shape, once the original mold has been digitized and stored, users can make backup copies for as long as they live.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer from Southern California whose writing covers a range of industries, including manufacturing, technology, health and medicine. She currently writes for DunkelBros.com

 

 

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