Australian startup Hearables 3D—a spin out of a research initiative at Swinburne University—has developed a process for 3D printing custom fitted ear devices, such as earphones and hearing aids, in less than an hour. The technique relies on smartphone 3D scanning and ultra-fast stereolithography 3D printing.
Prior to 3D printing, the production of hearing aids and custom hearing products necessitated the patient or customer undergoing an uncomfortable physical molding process and then waiting days or even weeks for the ear tips to be produced. Alternatively, people used standardized, pre-made ear tips which, while immediately accessible, did not fit well.
Additive manufacturing processes are enabling people to benefit from the best of both worlds: custom, perfectly fitted hearing devices which are almost immediately available. Hearables 3D especially has simplified the process of ordering and producing custom ear tips with its 3D scanning and printing approach.
The process begins by capturing a 3D scan of the wearer’s ear using the iPhone 3D scanning function. A proprietary software then automatically processes the raw 3D scan data using advanced 3D statistical modeling, resulting in an ear tip model that is ready to be printed on an SLA system using a biocompatible resin. According to the startup, the products can be produced in under an hour.
“The process for getting a hearing aid usually requires an audiology visit, a moulding process, and a one to two-week wait time,” explained Dr. Phil Kinsella, Co-Founder and CTO of Hearables 3D. “What makes Hearables 3D different is the ability to acquire the data in a convenient manner using the latest iPhone technology, and the automation system behind it allowing a turnaround time of under an hour, with most people opting for next day delivery.”
Dr. Phil Kinsella completed his PhD at Swinburne University, where he devised the 3D scanning and printing method for the hearing devices. After seeing success with his research initiative, he established Hearables 3D with Co-Founder Damien Png to commercialize the custom hearing products.
“Swinburne provided the opportunity to pursue a PhD in a topic that would not be considered a standard PhD,” he said. “Not only has Swinburne given me the opportunity to do this PhD but, towards the end of the research and when the results were showing promise, we were able to acquire seed funding through Swinburne Ventures, which allowed the research to gain a new life as a commercial entity.”
Hearing loss is a condition that is affecting growing swaths of the population—a phenomenon that has inspired the creation of innovative and accessible hearing devices. Not only will Hearables 3D’s technology address hearing aids, but it will also aim to offer more preventative solutions, such as custom fit earphones. Having personalized ear phones can prevent sound leakage, which typically leads people to listen to music at higher volumes, causing hearing damage.
At this stage, Hearables 3D is seeking to commercialize its products.