3D Printed Hearing Aids

University of Rhode Island kindly invited me to give a talk on 3D printing today ("The Third Industrial Revolution: How 3D Printing Changes the Manufacturing Paradigm"). Rather than regurgitate a technical talk targeted at an engineering audience, I thought I'd share the story of a student who came up to me afterwards.

3D printing lets me hear what you are saying right now. Before I got these custom 3D printed hearing aids, I had to wear uncomfortable foam plugs. I worried about them falling out or getting wet. The 3D printed version fits perfectly, never falls out, allows me to hear better and has the electronics inside so I don't have to worry about moisture.

For most people today, 3D printing is an interesting novelty. Yet a growing minority of people find customized goods, like 3D printed hearing aids, as irreplaceable. The price of industrial 3D printing is still high, so mass customization is still restricted to expensive goods like medical devices. However, we're starting to see near-industrial grade machines like the Formlabs Form1, B9Creator, and SLS-like BluePrinter create a new prosumer market that places downward pressure on industrial prices. Variable costs are also coming down as the market operates under economies of scale for commodity resins/powders. Thus mass customization will be cost-effective for consumer-grade products in the near future. Earbuds, as the natural extension of mass market hearing aids, are only the tip of the 3D printed iceberg.

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