Okay, let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: My name is Mike, and I’m a geek. A gear geek, a tech geek. And I really love it when I see a marriage of technology and solutions that make a real difference. I love it when people much smarter than me find ways to do things that everyone else said could not be done. It gets even better when those solutions are in place you might not think about right away. 3d printing came first, and now we have the emergence of 3d scanning in a partnership with United Sciences. Goodbye messy silicone! I can’t say you will be missed!
Enter Ultimate Ears Pro. Ultimate Ears has been a leading provider of both universal fit and custom in-ear monitors (CIEM) for a long time. They are known for producing amazing quality in a wide variety of configurations to meet just about every budget and use case. For our article here, we are going to talk about some very cool advances in the way their CIEM product is produced. We’ve talked about Ultimate Ears and the process to create custom in-ear monitors. At a very high level it goes sort of like this; Create silicone mold, send to UE, cut up mold to add drivers, create mold, add drivers, QA then ship to customer. The process was fast enough, but the folks at UE knew it could be improved in regard to time to delivery, quality of fit and ease of process to the customer. The result is a more effective process from start to finish. So what is it then that makes the new futuristic, geeky, technology filled process better you ask? Well, keep reading and we will try to explain it.
Late last year Ultimate Ears took the first steps into what General Manager and Vice President Philippe Depallens has referred to as the “digital journey”. It used to be that the craftsmen (and women of course!) at UE would use the silicone molds that were created by filling your ears with gooey pink stuff as the basis for the CIEM. This was great and worked well, but the silicone impression was a one-shot deal. If a mistake was made, you might have to re-do the process. The first level improvement comes now with 3d printing. Instead of working directly with the impression, they now do a full 3d digital scan of the master impression. The digital impression then becomes the working place to add sound holes, drivers, cord connections, etc. After the modeling is completed, the CIEM product is then created using state of the art digital printing. Why does this all matter? Well, first of all is a greatly reduced delivery window. There has also been a more than 50% reduction in returns due to human error, molding problems or anything else that may contribute to being anything less than perfect.
All of this has been an incredible improvement, but the UE Pro team hasn’t stopped there. What if Ultimate Ears was top team up with a leading innovator in 3d laser scanning built around military grades specifications and accuracy? What is there was a new technology that everyone said could not be done? (like making lasers bend). What if you could produce an ear impression 6-times greater than silicone and never have to deal with that goopy, gooey pink stuff? Well all of those “what ifs” have been answered and the next step of the digital journey is moving ahead. UE has teamed up with the smart folks at United Sciences. United Sciences has produced the worlds only 3d scanner originally started as a Department of the Navy project to measure and scan aircraft fastener holes. The team lead by CEO Samuel B Kellett Jr and some incredibly smart engineers has adapted the hole scanning technology to an extremely innovative ear scanning solution. Samuel told me at the recent NAMM Show in Anaheim , Ca that the team led by co-founder, Chief Technology Officer and solution inventor Karol Hatzilias did things with lasers that everyone said could not be done. The precise dimensions captured by the 3.2mm probe and integrated tracking allows for features never thought possible for in-ear devices — optimal fit, comfort and seal — resulting in superior fidelity for the end user. What this does simply is enable real-time manufacturing & fulfillment — consumers will now be able to experience the benefits of a custom in-ear device in a matter of hours via the digital scanning process coupled with 3D printing. We here at 316Press encourage a visit to the United Sciences website for more information. It was a pleasure to meet the team from from this very cool technology company, but for the sake of space here I will save further information for another article.
Look for Ultimate Ears to start rolling this technology out to their audiologist partners soon. In the mean time, it’s being utilized at special events (like NAMM 2015) only and a couple of us from 316Press were privileged to be scanned at the show. Having had silicone impressions made in the past, I can tell you first hand that this process was much more simple and unquestionably more comfortable. A small fixture is placed around each ear as a guidance device for the scan, and the small probe is inserted into the ear. As the scanner gathers measurements in real time, the specialist has a real time display of the 3d model being created. (see photos). This easy painless process takes less than 5 minutes and the completed 3d image is immediately available for review. The digital files are then transmitted from wherever in the world they were done to the craftspeople at UE. From there the digital impressions are combined with the placement of drivers, sound holes, connections, etc. to ensure you get the best possible product. I must confess, I was a bit skeptical of this process at first, but those feelings went away as I watched the process in real time as Karol Hatzilias did the scan in my ears.
I guess the biggest question I had was “does it really make a difference?” In short, yes! Absolutely!
After the scan and creation, what was delivered is simply fantastic. Compared to the CIEM’s I have that were created by traditional silicone molds, I see these immediate benefits: better fit which means more comfortable. Better sealing from outside influence. Much more detail ed and accurate product with some distinct differences. For example, in areas of the silicone formed units, there are some soft curves and really little detail. With the 3d scan product, there are very detail areas rather than less detailed transitions. I can see clear ridges, dips and turns that are missing from the silicone molds. Comfort is huge! I immediately can tell that extended wear will be much more comfortable. The older units are a bit tight in areas, the 3d scans are snug and give no feeling that they will come loose but there is no pressure like I feel with the old ones.
In a future article, contributor Clark Wilson will be providing a real-world review from a Worship Musicians perspective. I will ave that for him. Please look for that coming soon. In the mean time, I’m a happy geek. I’ve seen some Star Trek futuristic technologies melded with the beautiful music I’m blessed to have available. Technology integrated with such a primal thing like hearing. It just works. The technology takes on a more organic feel…especially when built using an awesome design with Elm Burl wood (see photos).
More to come. Be blessed…
Edited: 3/4 – corrected name of the 3d scanning technology. Sorry for any confusion Karol!