Custom-Fit 3D Printed Earphone Design Developed by Formlabs and Sennheiser AMBEO

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Formlabs Factory Solutions are 3D printing solutions specifically tailored to businesses looking to build scalable manufacturing solutions, and include feasibility studies, consulting services, production workflow optimization, and manufacturing infrastructures based on its own AM technology. The latest customer to benefit from this offering is audio specialist Sennheiser’s AMBEO division, which partnered with Formlabs to develop a customizable, 3D printed earphone prototype that will offer what the company calls “an immersive sound experience.”

“We are very excited about the concept of custom fit to deliver a custom experience to further enhance immersive listening. Formlabs shares Sennheiser’s drive for innovation – and improving the customer experience through this prototype is a testament to that mindset,” Véronique Larcher, Director of AMBEO Immersive Audio at Sennheiser, said in a press release.

3D printed audio solutions, such as headphones and ear buds, have been offered by Formlabs before, as the company’s automated manufacturing solution is a good fit for introducing accessibility and mass customization to consumer audio products. Custom fit earphones offer the user a much better listening experience, as the product is measured and made to fit exactly in their ear, not someone else’s. Not only does this improve the comfort of wearing them, it also offers better noise isolation and a more secure fit. But, an accessible, easy-to-use manufacturing solution, coupled with a scalable, automated process, is necessary to offer custom-fit earphones. Enter Formlabs Factory Solutions.

“Our technology collaboration with Sennheiser seeks to change the way customers interact with the brands they love by enabling a more customized, user-centric approach to product development. Formlabs’ deep industry knowledge and broad expertise in developing scalable solutions enable us to deliver tangible innovations to our customers,” said Iain McLeod, Director of Audio at Formlabs. “In this case, we are working with Sennheiser’s AMBEO team to deliver a uniquely accessible, custom fit experience.”

Sennheiser is one of the top manufacturers of headphones, loudspeakers, microphones, and wireless transmission systems. Its AMBEO division promises an “end-to-end immersive experience,” because it adds the most advanced 3D audio technology into its new tools and products. Rather than just hearing sound sources from the front and back, left and right, the noise with AMBEO is said to come from any position in 3D space, hence the word “immersive.” Custom in-ear tips with a more accurate fit give Sennheiser AMBEO users total control of how they’re listening to sound, whether they want “transparent awareness” of the real surrounding noises or immersive virtual audio playback.

Custom ear tips in a transparent soft material, direct from the 3D printer with supports still attached

Sennheiser came to Formlabs for help creating its custom-fit earphone prototype, and the two ended up using smartphone scanning, machine learning, and automated 3D printing on multiple Form 3B systems, the two companies came up with what they “an affordable and simple solution” for mass 3D printed custom earphones. It took just three weeks to deliver the solution to Sennheiser, and lead times for the earphones were majorly reduced thanks to this manufacturing solution.

The Hearables3D smartphone app uses artificial intelligence to improve the quality of its 3D scans and reconstruct the parts of the ear that the phone misses, and Formlabs says it can deliver an ear scan in less than one minute, which is pretty remarkable. The scan is then sent to a cloud-based machine learning system, which rapidly converts the scanned ear shape into a 3D printable earphone design using statistical modeling. Formlabs’ PreForm software is used to prepare the file for printing on the Form 3B, and can also automatically queue and route print jobs “to a multi-printer Factory Solution.”

Black silicone custom ear tips (top), with standard fit dome shapes (foreground)

The Form 3B, which uses low force stereolithography (LFS) technology, can produce accurate 3D printed earphones with a smooth, detailed surface finish, which makes post-processing easier. What simplifies this even more is Formlabs’ programmable Form Wash and Form Cure units, which help ensure consistent results.

Sennheiser and Formlabs 3D printed custom ear-tip prototypes in a number of color and materials, and for even more personalization, they also feature engraved logos and initials. In addition, the customized 3D printed ear tips are said to remain mounted on the AMBEO earphones even when they’re inside a travel recharge case.

Remember, these 3D printed earphones are just a prototype, so they’re not available on the market just yet. But many people find it hard to resist the siren call of high-quality, customized products, so I imagine these will sell like hotcakes in the future.

(Source/Images: Formlabs)

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