3D printing has become a wide- spread trend that commands a variety of uses, but did you know that it could also help create hearing aids? Find out more in the latest Audicus blog.
3D Printing Technology
3D Printing, or additive manufacturing, is the creation of a physical object from a three- dimensional computer image. This object is created through a process of adding several layers or fractions of an image together until the physical manifestation of that image is formed. Although the concept of 3D printing seems very advanced, this revolutionary form of technology was first used in 1986! 3D printing has many uses including architecture, metal casting and even hearing aid manufacturing.
Hearing Aids with 3D Technology
Many of the issues that surround hearing aids are related to their size- on occasion hearing aids may fall out because they are too small or cause discomfort because they are too big. The accuracy that goes into creating a three-dimensional object is a very useful trait when it comes to the manufacturing of hearing devices intended to fit inside the ear.
Widex is a hearing aid company that excels in 3D printed hearing aids, due in part to its procedure of constructing a three-dimensional image of a patient’s ear canal before the patient is provided a device. Widex uses Computer-Aided Manufacturing of Individual Shells for Hearing Aids, or CAMISHA. The efficiency that goes behind 3D printed hearing aids is reflected in their popularity- over 10,000,000 3D printed hearing aids have been sold!
3D Printing and Reconstructive Ear Surgery
The new capabilities that come with 3D printing mean that people with ear damage or ear deformities may be able to have surgery than can help restore their hearing. A team of researchers from University College London are currently working on using 3D printing to create ears for children born with congenital ear defects.
The reconstructive process works by taking a scan of the patient’s ear and creating a three- dimensional image of the ear. This image is then 3D printed into a scaffold, often made of a soft plastic. This scaffold can be implanted under the skin of the patient’s arm, where blood vessels and skin cells will begin to attach to it.
The spongy plastic scaffold, complete with skin and blood vessels, can later be removed from the patient’s arm after a few weeks and attached to the head during reconstructive surgery. Before the invention of 3D ear grafts, people with congenital ear deformities risked going through highly invasive forms of surgery. In an earlier trial, scientists were able to place the soft plastic ear-scaffold inside of a rat and have tissue grow over it.
The medical implications of 3D printing technology extend to other parts of the human body. Organovo is a company that specializes in the bioprinting of human tissues, including skin. In May 2015 L’Oreal announced that it was currently in the process of using 3D-printed human skin as a substitute for cosmetics testing on lab animals.