These days, technology is advancing at lightning speed. Things we thought impossible just a few years ago are now making their way into everyday life leaving us marveling at the possibilities of science. One such advancement has been 3D printing capabilities. You may have heard of 3D printing in recent years, but this exciting new process could now be revolutionizing the hearing aid industry.
What Is 3D Printing?
They are popping up around the world from the biggest corporations to the smallest local libraries, inviting wonder at how a machine can create like that! A 3D printer essentially takes a digital model and turns it into a solid three-dimensional physical object by adding material layer by layer. These sophisticated printers can create models using a variety of materials (with new materials introduced all the time) including plastics, metal, sandstone and even food! The possibilities seem to be endless, so how can we expect it to change the hearing aid industry?
3D Printing And Hearing Aids
One of the many uses for 3D printing that has come to the forefront has been in creating earmolds for hearing aids. The technology, once available only to a select few, is now sweeping the world and making it faster and easier to create ear molds that are more accurate than ever before. What is most exciting is seeing how this new technology is creating the opportunity for those around the world who have hearing loss but may not have had access to hearing aids in the past.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss and that number is expected to grow to over 900 million by the year 2050. The organization also estimates that, despite the need and benefits associated with using hearing devices to manage hearing loss, global production of hearing aids meets less than 10% of the need and that percentage is even less in developing countries meeting under 3% of the need.
3DP4ME Has A Solution
The volunteer organization 3DP4ME, in partnership with the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, has made it their mission to “3D print hearing aid molds for 97% of those in need…providing 3D printed hearing aid earmolds to disadvantaged populations in the Middle East.” The potential of this organization’s mission for helping those around the world with hearing loss is astounding.
Recognizing the severe gap between the need and production and availability of hearing aids, 3DP4ME looked to 3D technology for a solution. The group begins with a 3D scan of the individual’s ear to create a highly accurate digital model that can then be customized as needed. From there the digital file is used to print the 3D version of the ear mold. This process allows the organization to speed up the ear mold process exponentially, creating thousands of ear molds in a year instead of the hundreds that traditional processes yield.
“The best part of this has been expanding my worldview and realizing that poverty and being able to hear are common human problems, and I hope to provide some amount of support,” said Bill Allen, who joined 3DP4ME as COO in 2017.
It’s hard to deny that technology and organizations like this are changing the hearing aid industry for the better. To learn more about 3DP4ME’s mission or to get involved, visit them here.