Westone has been manufacturing custom-fit products for the human ear for over 60 years. Along the way, we have seen some incredible advancement in the materials, tools, techniques, and technology used to create the products that allow people to enhance, protect, and enjoy their hearing. Some of these have been new types of earpiece materials, earpiece styles, new types of impression material, advanced impression material delivery systems, programmable and RIC hearing instruments, Cochlear implants, to name just a few. The pace of these advancements has been staggering.
The technological advancement that has had the most impact on manufacturing custom-fit products for the human ear is 3D modeling and printing technologies. The ability to digitally scan an impression or scan the ear and then use that information to model an earpiece in virtual space has given us the control and precision we could only have dreamed about years ago.
So what is the Elite Digital Impression and Manufacturing Service, and how does it work?
Elite Digital Impression and Manufacturing Service is precisely what the name implies it is. This new service from Westone allows the hearing healthcare provider to take advantage of the latest technologies in custom-fit earpiece production. Let's discuss the impression process first, and then we can discuss how we manufacture the finished custom-fit earpieces using a "Hybrid Manufacturing" process.
What are digital impressions?
Digital impressions are three-dimensional models created in one of two ways. The first is to use a traditional ear impression and then a 3D scanner to create the digital model. The second method forgoes the physical impression altogether. Instead, a portable handheld scanner is used to create a virtual impression.
There are many benefits to using digital impressions as the source for custom-fit products; these include; but are not limited to the following.
Digital impressions and earpiece orders are sent instantaneously via the internet
Impressions are stored digitally
Impressions are readily available for future use
Increased patient/client satisfaction
Please Note: As with traditional ear impressions, the finished product can only be as good as the impression the lab receives. Always inspect the quality of the impression before sending it to the manufacturer.
This is where “Hybrid Manufacturing” comes into play.
When Westone receives a digital ear impression file, it still goes through the same process as it would in a traditional lab. Instead of doing everything to a physical impression, we manipulate it in virtual space. For example, the impression is still waxed. However, we use a template to modify the virtual impression instead of molten wax applied with a paintbrush. Everything is done virtually, on the computer using a program designed to produce custom-fit products for the ear, using templates that we created, giving us precise control over the whole process. After the modeling of the earpiece is complete, we then use a 3D printer to make what we call the "Blank."
The "Blank" is a finished model used to create the molds in which the finished earpiece will be made. Currently, state-of-the-art 3D printers cannot produce the infinite variety of materials and unique colors that Westone is known for. To overcome this limitation, we use the best of both worlds - the latest digital technologies and old-world hands-on craftsmanship to produce products that can fulfill the needs of all your patients/clients. After the earpieces have been cast, only a few steps remain to finish the earpiece. These steps include removing any mold marks, placing sound bores venting, and finishing the earpieces to the high standard you have come to expect from Westone.
We can't tell you how excited we are about this production process. It gives us infinite control over the variables that have always made custom-fit products for the ear a challenge to manufacture.
There are many advantages to using "Hybrid Manufacturing" for custom-fit products. These include but are not limited to the following:
Precise control of waxing templates on critical parts of the earpiece
Computer-controlled earpiece style templates
The ability to make changes and adjustments to the earpiece in virtual space
3D printing is used to create the earpiece “Blanks”.
"Hybrid Manufacturing allows the use of all earpiece materials, colors, finishes, and options available for your patients/clients.
Reduced remakes and improved patient/client satisfaction
This manufacturing process can be used for any style of earpiece available from Westone.
This manufacturing process can be used with earpieces from any age group, from pediatric to geriatric and everyone in between.
1. How to get started using Westone's Elite Digital Scanning and Manufacturing Process?
First, you will need access to a desktop digital scanner impression scanner (for impressions made using traditional methods) or a handheld ear scanner. The desktop scanner that we currently use is the Smart Optics duoScan. It has been giving excellent results for quite some time now. There are models by other manufacturers as well.
- Smart Optics duoScan tabletop scanner www.smartoptics.de
Two of the most popular handheld ear scanning systems on the market are the Otoscan from Natus or the Lantos technologies scanner. However, there may be others on the market that can give similar results.
- The Otoscan® from Natus® Digital Ear Scanner www.natus.com
- Lantos Technologies Digital Ear Scanner www.lantostechnologies.com
The scans of the impressions will feature approximately 100,000 individually measured points; this is called a point cloud. The point cloud creates the impression in virtual space.
2. What types of files does Westone accept for the Elite Digital Scanning and Manufacturing Process?
We can accept digital ear scans in these formats:
Stereo Lithography files (.stl)
ASCII Point Cloud files (.acs)
HIMSA NOAH files (.hps)
Please Note: .stl files are the most compatible with software and systems Westone uses to manufacture its custom-fit products. Another advantage of .stl files is that they are also easy to use and view with publicly available 3D preview software. .stl file formats are native output files of all the major direct ear scanning technologies or desktop impression scanners.
3. How do digital scans get submitted to Westone?
Send the digital file(s) and a filled-out order form to Westone via email: email@example.com, and we will start processing the order.
Be sure to include a filled-out order form with any order. Send this set of data files via email or through "cloud portals" created by the scanning equipment manufacturers.
4. What is the turnaround time for orders using the Elite Digital Scanning and Manufacturing Process?
Currently, it may take 24 to 72 hours for an order to be turned into a "Blank." Westone is committed to reducing this time as demand for our Elite Digital Scanning and Manufacturing process becomes more popular.
Once the "Blank" has been created, the earpiece is already halfway through the manufacturing process and should require a day or two to complete.
5. What support does Westone provide for customers using the Elite Digital Scanning and Manufacturing Process?
The manufacturers of the individual scanning systems that the hearing healthcare provider uses are the primary support system. They are responsible for all training and ongoing support on their digital impression systems. Westone has partnered with most scanning system providers as a manufacturer, not as an agent or technical assistance specialist.
Please Note: Digital scans can vary in overall quality and specific anatomy detail. Westone reserves the right to request new scans of new impressions, new scan(s) of the ear(s), OR Westone may limit the "earpiece style" selection. The scan(s) provider agrees with and fully supports this scan quality requirement when they use this service.
We hope this answers some questions about the scanning process and hybrid manufacturing. As always, we are happy to help answer questions. Simply call us at 1-800-525-5071 or head to our website to learn more.