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News

Project of Materialise, Phonak and Siemens results in successful hearing aid design software

Materialise NV : 04 November, 2002  (Company News)
Materialise, the industry leader in STL manipulation software, and top hearing aid manufacturers Phonak and Siemens collaborated in the remarkable 'Rapid Shell Modeling' (RSM) project. In this project, an innovative end-to-end process chain was established, including digitally capturing the ear canal geometry, interactive 3D modelling of hearing aids and direct manufacturing in batch processes with laser sintering equipment.
Materialise collaborated closely with both hearing aid companies to develop this highly automated RSM application. Their goal was to improve efficiency and reproducibility in hearing aid design and manufacturing. As the industry return rates are up to 25% at the moment, reproducibility and improving the quality were important objectives. The RSM project represents over 10 man-years of research and development and is proving to be a success.

'In-the-Ear (ITE) hearing aids are custom manufactured products that must match the anatomy of the patient's inner ear exactly. The production of these custom hearing aids is a very labour-intensive process, currently with little scope for automation or information technology,' says Christoph Widmer, Phonak, 'As a result, it's not easy to reproduce a hearing aid that is defective or has been lost or destroyed. RSM eliminates this disadvantage by integrating advanced design automation and rapid prototyping technology into a single process. We can now manufacture hearing aids directly from output produced by the RSM application.'

In the new RSM process, a three-dimensional model of the patient's inner ear is computed from the scanned impression of the ear canal. This model can be further manipulated by using RSM's sophisticated geometrical algorithms to obtain the finished hearing aid shell. A single shell can be produced in 3 - 6 minutes and both the left and right hearing aid can be produced simultaneously. The geometry of each hearing aid is archived, which makes it easy to reproduce an identical copy when the hearing aid is lost or damaged.
The RSM application was developed with a wizard-like user interface. The operator is taken through each step of the shell manufacturing process in a structured sequence closely resembling the manual process. The software also allows the user to 'virtually' assemble the hearing aid on-screen, while the application verifies that all components will fit into the instrument.

'We are very pleased with the results!' says Bart Swaelens, manager of Materialise's software division. 'Our extensive experience in design automation and rapid prototyping aided Phonak and Siemens in accomplishing their goal: improving the quality of the end product and the reproducibility of the design and manufacturing process. The project is now over a year old, and first versions of the software have been in use for several months. The results show that we definitely achieved our goal.'
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