Swinburne 3D printing technology is shaking up personalised hearing aids and earphones

Friday 5 July 2019 by Nick Adams

3D scanning of a person's ear.

Using an iPhone's 3D scanning function, customised ear devices can be scanned and printed in under an hour.

In summary

  • Swinburne-led research initiative is using new 3D printing method to fit users with personalised ear devices
  • Personalised ear devices for use with earphones and hearing aids can be created in under an hour
  • They are created using an iPhone’s 3D scanning function and a proprietary system

A new, Swinburne-led research initiative is using an ultra-fast 3D printing method to fit users with personalised ear devices in under an hour.  

Hearables 3D is a startup that draws on Swinburne research to scan and 3D print customised tips, tailored to individuals’ unique ear profile. The result is better-fitting earphones and hearing aids.

The custom, 3D printed devices are made using an iPhone’s 3D scanning function and a proprietary system that takes a raw 3D scan and automatically processes it using advance 3D statistical modelling.

A proprietary system takes a raw 3D scan and automatically processes it using advance 3D statistical modelling.

Making a difference to the hearing impaired community

Traditionally, similar custom products have relied on uncomfortable, physical moulds, which take days to be made. Often users were stuck with uncomfortable, pre-made ear tips available in a limited range of sizes.

“The process for getting a hearing aid usually requires an audiology visit, a moulding process, and a one to two-week wait time,” says 3D Hearables’ co-founder, Director and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Dr Phil Kinsella.

“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.”

The Hearables 3D team using a laptop.
Dr Phil Kinsella (left) completed his PhD at Swinburne and is now working with Damien Png (R) to commercialise Hearables 3D 

Chief Operating Officer (COO) and co-founder, Damian Png, says the technology can be life-changing for those with hearing aids.

“We all know someone who carries the burden of earphones falling out or being uncomfortable. For those who wear hearing aids all day every day, a poorly fitted device isn't just uncomfortable, it becomes painful. So much so that they're willing to give up one of their five senses,” says Mr Png.

He hopes the 3D Hearables products will make custom-fit hearing aids more accessible to those suffering hearing loss.

Addressing Australia’s hearing loss problem

Hearing loss is becoming an increasingly prevalent problem in society, says Mr Png.

“It is cited as the 'next smoking’ and, with all this in mind, ear solutions that everyday people like and can access are needed more than ever. That's where our technology fits in.”

Sound leakage, which causes users to listen to music at higher volumes and damages hearing, can be prevented by using personalised earphones.

 “Our vision is to make custom-fit devices an everyday norm,” says Mr Png.

Putting in the hard work

The technology needed to deliver such a fast turnaround from 3D scanning to 3D printing is based on the work of Dr Kinsella, who completed his PhD at Swinburne.

Product shot of Hearables 3D tips on earphones.
The 3D printed ear devices can be made to fit earphones and hearing aids.

“The idea of being able to have something made just for me, that’s accessible and cost-effective, sounded like a really important concept and one I wanted to be a part of,” says Dr Kinsella.

He credits Swinburne with allowing him to pursue his unique PhD.

“Swinburne provided the opportunity to pursue a PhD in a topic that would not be considered a standard PhD,” he says.

“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.

“Being the first cross-collaboration between engineering and design at Swinburne has also allowed me to have two supervisors that to this day are providing insights, guidance and support.”

Hearables 3D is currently seeking to commercialise their product.