WS Audiology, a leading hearing aid company, has adopted 3D Systems’ Figure 4 high-speed 3D printing system to improve the quality and function of its injection molding manufacturing processes with the 3D printing of production-grade grippers, fixtures, and prototypes at its Lynge, Denmark, site. A pioneer in 3D printing for the manufacturing of hearing aid shells, WS Audiology has expanded its use of 3D printing to solve a range of manufacturing line and product development challenges, citing the quality, performance, and material versatility of Figure 4 as key benefits.
There are many different injection molded parts within WS Audiology’s Widex brand hearing aids. These parts include encasings, contacts, and blocks for electronics that are fitted in each hearing aid, some of which are as small as 8 mm x 3 mm. Due to their size, this category of parts requires robotic rather than manual handling, involving suction cups for larger parts, and metal grippers for small parts. However, these handling methods have shortcomings. The suction cups have difficulty properly orienting parts, which leads to loss of grip, and the metal-based grippers are prone to leaving marks on the parts in addition to having long manufacturing lead times.
The development team at WS Audiology found that using 3D printing to manufacture hearing aid shells delivers a final product with substantially higher quality and productivity increased eight-fold.
The Figure 4 projection-based additive manufacturing technology uses a non-contact membrane to combine accuracy and amazing detail fidelity with fast print speeds. The development team uses the Figure 4 Standalone, an affordable and versatile system that offers speed, quality, and accuracy with industrial-grade durability, service, and support, as well as quick material changeovers for enhanced application versatility.
Tool designer Henry Federiksen, at WS Audiology’s Tooling Department, found that the speed of the Figure 4 enabled more parts to be produced, tested, and confirmed in a shorter period of time. Plus, he could produce parts without tooling.
He can go directly from a digital file to a physical part, removing a significant amount of time from the typical processes. He notes that 3D printed grippers are usually available in a day or two, leaving a lot of happy customers in the injection molding department.
“The current production volume today is about 200 grippers, 100 jigs and fixtures, and 500+ prototypes per year, so we make good use of our investment.” – Henry Frederiksen, Tool Designer, WS Audiology
WS Audiology is taking advantage of Figure 4 PRO-BLK 10 and Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK. The range of materials available with the Figure 4 platform makes it possible to address a broad set of applications with greater diversity in material properties, with material chemistries that have been engineered for long-term use, up to 1.5 years for outdoor parts and up to 8 years for indoor parts (per ASTM testing methods). Figure 4 PRO-BLK 10 is a production-grade rigid material, and Figure 4 RUBBER-65A is a mid-tear strength, production-grade rubber with Shore 65A hardness and a high elongation at break.