Oct 15, 2015 | By Kira

Seven businesses and a non-profit research institute have partnered to develop new techniques for creating comfortable, sound-optimized, and rapidly manufactured hearing aids using completely non-invasive light-based imaging and multi-material 3D printing technology. The 3D-PolySPRINT project has been in place since last June, and is led by headphone and audio expert Sennheiser Electronic GmbH, with 3D printing partner Materialise, PCB manufacturer LPKF Laser & Electronics, and independent non-profit Lazer Zentrum Hannover (LZH) on board to help develop data-converting software.

Participants at the Kick-Off-Meeting in July, in front of the Sennheiser Innovation Campus

The current process for custom-made 3D printed hearing aids or in-ear headsets involves pouring mould into the patient’s ear, waiting for it to harden, then creating a 3D scan of the mould. The process can work very well in some cases, but can still be lengthy and uncomfortable for the patient. The partners of 3D-PolySPRINT want to fundamentally change this approach by relying solely on non-tactile imaging—meaning they can avoid the physical mould altogether while still creating a perfectly tailored and optimized hearing aid for each individual patient.

Ear piece created with stereolithograhy

The non-tactile imaging method involved is known as Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), whereby light scanning is used to capture micrometer-resolution, 3D images of biological tissue (in this case, the auditory canal). That data is then sent to LZH, who is developing software that can convert the raw image data of the patient’s ear into a construction file—the equivalent of a physical mould.

OPMed OCT Camera for capturing light-based 3D imaging

From this point, otoplastic hearing aid devices will be 3D printed using both spray coating and laser transfer printing (LTP) technologies. LZH’s Laser Micromachining Group is developing the necessary process, and focusing on multi-material 3D printing in order to achieve a hard inner core and comfortable, soft covering that will increase comfort and avoid unpleasant pressure sores.

According to LZH, combining the light-imaging and 3D printing technologies make the hearing devices more comfortable and with better sound quality tailored to each individual’s needs. They will simultaneously reduce manufacturing and delivery times—not only will the hearing aids be usable for longer periods of time due to the proper fit and durable materials, they will reach the customer at least a day earlier than with current manufacturing methods.

Along with Sennheiser Electronic, LZH, Materialise, and LPKF, the partners include OptoMedical Technologies GmbH, Dreve ProDiMed GmbH, microTec Gesellschaft für Mikrotechnologie mbH, and Kind Hörgeräte GmbH & Co. KG. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and will last for three years. Sennheiser and Kind will be the end-users of the final products, delivering them to  customers worldwide.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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