Since the inception of 3D printing in the early 1980s, mass production has been viewed as the technology’s holy grail. But for more than a decade, while other companies have teased the possibility of full-production 3D printing of sneakers, eyeglasses, toys and other objects, Switzerland-based Sonova, the world’s leading hearing care solutions provider, has quietly been doing it. Today, the company runs several of the world’s largest and most sophisticated 3D printing factories. Learn more below.
AURORA, Ill. ― The center, the heart, of Sonova’s Aurora Operations and Distribution Center (AODC) here is filled with 3D printers, rows of quiet gray machines on wheels with distinctive orange hoods.
Nearby, shifts of skilled technicians in white lab coats sit at desks with large computer monitors. They scan silicone impressions of patient ears into digital files and then use special software to design custom hearing aid shells. The final digital files are sent to the 3D printers for production. Each EnvisionTEC Perfactory machine churns out batches of about two dozen shells per hour in flesh tones such as pink, tan and cocoa, as well as fun fashion colors.
After printing the shells, workers clean them and then assemble the tiny electronics inside. Each shell is customized for each individual patient’s ears, both the left and right, for a snug, comfortable fit.
“We operate two shifts with over 500 employees,” explained Mujo Bogaljevic, Vice President of Operations at Sonova US, which manufactures Phonak and Unitron brand devices. “I’m very proud that we were the first one to bring this new 3D technology into on-demand manufacturing. We have completely transformed the way custom hearing aids are made. Today, EnvisionTEC technology is the standard in our industry.”
In all, Michael Walther, Director of Operations and Finance at Sonova’s AODC, said the company prints thousands of hearing aid shells each day. “It’s high volume.”
For Sonova, 3D printing has eliminated a traditional and handcrafting process for custom hearing aids that was once long, laborious and expensive. Today’s 3D printed shells also fit better, have more room for microelectronics and result in higher satisfaction from patients and audiologists.
Consequently, Sonova’s early adoption of 3D printing helped the company gain market share over the years to secure the No. 1 position in its industry.
“Not too long ago, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a certain shoe company … and how it was going to use 3D printing to print one kind of very special shoe. It made me smile,” said Bill Lesiecki, Director of Business Services at Sonova’s AODC. “Because for more than 10 years, we’ve been using this technology not to create some one-off or specialized item, we create all of our custom hearing instruments this way.”
The relationship between Sonova and EnvisionTEC started about 15 years ago. The 3D printing industry was still in its infancy then, and EnvisionTEC had just launched its first Perfactory, which is now in its fourth generation. …
Hall 3A | Booth F27
“This is truly cutting edge. … We create all of our custom hearing instruments this way.”
Bill Lesiecki, Director of Business Services, Sonova, said of 3D printing