3-D printing in hearing aid technology

By Supporter Contributor Melisa Marzett

[Editor’s note: DeafInPrison.com welcomes Melisa Marzett to our team as our newest supporter contributor. — BitcoDavid]

Creatz3D
Creatz3D

3-D printing is a technology that makes many people plunge into thoughts. Most people are surprised when they first hear about 3-D printing, and they can’t imagine how it works. The most common idea is that it is like a replicator from Star Trek, reproducing virtually any object – including food – in a few seconds.

Unlike a Star Trek replicator, 3-D printing technology is much more understandable, and in fact very similar to common technologies such as inkjet printing. The construction using 3-D printing is based on gradually adding more and more material until the object has the desired shape. Typically, the material is added creating vertical layers above one another, from the bottom to the top. This layering can actually take several hours.

One of the strongest points of the 3-D printing industry, is its ability to take individual and exclusive orders and do them immediately. These orders would otherwise be expensive, if not altogether impossible to fabricate. Thus, no wonder that the healthcare sector is one of the devoted customers of 3-D printing. Nowadays, 3-D printers create many objects used in medicine including recently developed hearing aids.

The hearing aid can not really replace one of the basic human senses. Each of us has a little change in the formation of the outer ear canal, so mass production of such an individualized device seems impossible.

Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech

However, three scientists from the Danish company Widex producing hearing aids, recieved a European Prize for their pioneering work on CAMISHA (Computer-Aided Manufacturing of Individual Shells for Hearing Aids). With the help of 3-D scanning of the ear and 3-D printing, they created the customized hearing aid, ITE.

First, liquid silicone is injected into the ear canal of the patient, in order to form the ideal shape of the ear. Once dry, the form is extracted and scanned using 3-D scanner to convert it into a 3D model. Next, the 3-D model is imported into the CAD model, and is sent to the 3-D printer. Once the hearing aids are printed, the IC that processes and amplifies the sound is inserted into the shell. And, finally, you have it – the most accurately manufactured and customized hearing aid in the world!

According to CNN, this technology of (CAMISHA), is so effective that 95% of the world’s ITE hearing aids use this method of production.

Today over 10 million 3-D printed hearing aids are available on the world market. And of course we don’t have to wait a week for a new hearing aid. A 3-D printer manufactured hearing aid is ready within one day! In fact the technology is even easier now. Within 90 minutes, 65 hearing aid shells are produced by a 3-D printer.

It seems obvious that the prices should eventually come down. Still, the process of creating 3-D printed hearing aids remains costly for manufactures. For instance, the price for a printer capable of creating hearing aids is between $20000 and $150000. Thus, it is hard to say if we can expect low prices for magic hearing aids.

No doubt, the future of the healthcare industry is in 3-D printing. We are witnesses of a wonder! Hopefully, in several years every Deaf and HoH person will be able to afford a 3-D printed hearing aid.

Melisa Marzett works on such topics as healthcare, technology and innovations. Follow Melisa on Google. Her other essays can be found at  best essay writing service.

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