July 10, 2015 | By Kira

Whether you’re on your morning commute, taking a hands-free call, playing a game on your phone, or even going for a jog, chances are you reach for your earphones at least once a day. If you are a musician or audiophile, your career may even depend on owning a high-quality, comfortable pair. However, unless your ears are perfectly symmetrical and happen to be just the right size, most standard earbuds have a tendency to move around, feel too tight, or even fall out.

To solve this problem, UK-based company Snugs has found success offering tailor-made earbuds, measured to fit perfectly within the unique curves of users’ ear canals, ensuring a more comfortable fit, better noise isolation, and the highest sound quality. Now, they’ve found an even more precise, accurate, and faster way to create bespoke buds using 3D scanning and printing technology.

Snugs isn’t the first company to think of custom-fitted earbuds—for musicians and other professionals, it has been standard practice for years—nor are they the first to use 3D scanning and printing to create a more accurate fit in less time. However, for the most part, it is a very small, niche, and expensive market. For that reason, Snugs’ long-term goal is to be one of the first ‘one-stop-shops’ for tailor-made ear buds, measuring, scanning, and 3D printing in-house, and bringing the comfort and quality of their product to the mainstream.

Thanks to 3D scanning and printing technology, they are much closer to accomplishing their goal. Traditionally, Snugs’ process relied on physical models of their users’ ears. These were created by pumping a special silicone paste deep into the ear canals, which for most people, can differ drastically from right ear to left, waiting for the paste to harden, and then using that mold to put the final earphones set together. The problem with this process is that it is challenging, invasive, and inaccessible to those with particular ear infections or other ailments.

3D scanning, on the other hand, is much less invasive, and can take only five minutes. In addition, 3D scans are incredibly detailed and accurate, meaning that there are fewer chances of imperfections or flaws in the final product. An added bonus is that 3D scan files can be sent directly to manufacturers, and kept on record, meaning that if you lose a pair while you are traveling, Snugs can immediately send the files to a local partner and have them printed, finished, and shipped out in no time.

Eventually, Snugs plans to cut-out third party manufacturers and 3D print the buds themselves using industrial silicone 3D printers, meaning that they could go from scan to final product overnight. They are also working on opening a bricks-and-mortar store in London by the end of the year. However, the market for bespoke earbuds is still quite small, and cost is a huge barrier for the majority of consumers.  According to Engadget, an appointment for a fitting and a set of buds can cost between £160-209 ($245-320), while the actual set of in-ears are extra (Snugs does offer bundles, including their most popular wired Snugs, and best-selling wireless set). In order to test the market, the company is only piloting their new 3D scanning and printing process in London, and will expand into the rest of the UK only when successful.

While it is uncertain just how many of us truly want or need such tailor-made earbuds, 3D scanning and printing is making them more affordable, accessible, and consistently high quality. Today, it’s a fancy tool for audiophiles and professional musicians. Tomorrow, it could be your go-to for catching tunes on your way to work.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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