Passion and experience help create the perfect custom hearing aids

Reading Time: 8 Minutes
07.10.2020

Passion and experience help create the perfect custom hearing aids

Many new hearing aid users want to get an invisible hearing aid. It is one of the most popular search terms in Google in relation to hearing aids. In the end, only 1 out of 10 people get an in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid. There are different reasons for that. We have created a new brochure for hearing aid users to promote in-the-ear hearing aids.

We have also talked to our colleagues in Germany about their experience in manufacturing in-the-ear hearing aids and about their experiences and challenges with the production.

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Interview with Christian Ball: Manager of the Bernafon Manufaktur in Berlin

The Bernafon Manufaktur has the knowledge and experience from two generations of the Ball family. Christian Ball’s father was the production manager of what was then Bosch Hörgeräte, now Bernafon Hörgeräte GmbH in Berlin. Four decades ago, he passed on his knowledge to his son. Since then, Christian Ball has overseen the production at Bernafon and is responsible for all processes involved in manufacturing ITEs. Precision and perfection are his goals.

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Interview with Christian Ball: Manager of the Bernafon Manufaktur in Berlin

The Bernafon Manufaktur has the knowledge and experience from two generations of the Ball family. Christian Ball’s father was the production manager of what was then Bosch Hörgeräte, now Bernafon Hörgeräte GmbH in Berlin. Four decades ago, he passed on his knowledge to his son. Since then, Christian Ball has overseen the production at Bernafon and is responsible for all processes involved in manufacturing ITEs. Precision and perfection are his goals.



He is passionate about manufacturing unique pieces that fit perfectly in the ear canal and have a good shape. His tinkerer gene is the basis for many special designs that were developed in Berlin, for example the design for the EORA hearing jewelry (www.hoerschmuck.de), the TiK (deep in canal) and Cymba models, special venting, or other refinements.

HQ: What are the advantages of manufacturing based in Germany?

C. B.: Individual wishes are our benchmark. It is important for us to know the customer's wishes and to align our production accordingly. We advise our customers by telephone - after all, there are more than 1,000 options that can be decisive for the fitting of in-the-ear hearing aids. Whether size, material, colors, finishes, or occlusion optimization, we discuss everything with our customers to ensure a successful fitting from the very first moment.

The results of our production are hearing aids for which we give a 100 % fit guarantee. Key to this are the personal consultation with the hearing care professional when the order is accepted, manual production based on digital high-tech modeling, and permanent precision control with an analog negative mold. Our special attention is therefore focused on producing a perfect negative form of the ear impression sent to us.

Before the negative form is created, we correct the ear impression, check it microscopically, eliminate defects and correct any imperfections. Unfortunately, these steps are not possible when we receive a scan of an impression. Nevertheless, we still create a negative form which serves as a control for all further production steps.

With professional technology, we create a digital 3D model. The scan is made in a resolution up to 10 times higher than in the standardized production of a hearing aid, which means more detail and accuracy. Templates specially developed in the Bernafon Manufaktur help to efficiently and quickly post-process the scans, such as compensating for small errors in the surface structure.

With digital 3D modeling, we create all the conditions that will later allow precise handmade production. We integrate all tools into the model and adjust individual parameters such as vent and shell thickness, rounding factor, individual comfort features, or desired engravings. In addition, the sanding mass relevant for the post-processing can be calculated exactly.

Once the 3D model is finalized on the computer, we print it out in a precise 3D printing process. We permanently control the printing process on site, but also by remote maintenance via external devices, thus ensuring perfect printing results.

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HQ: What are the biggest challenges in the production of in-the-ear hearing aids?

With the integration of the 3D printer and 3D modeling into our production methods, we questioned the concept of our Bernafon Manufaktur. We asked ourselves to what extent the new technologies might challenge our identity as a manufacturer.

It soon became clear to us that the use of machines in manufacturing has always been common practice and remains indispensable. An essential characteristic of manufacturing is that the human being decides on the completion of the individual work steps and the degree of perfection. Employees with different professional qualifications, such as dental technicians, electrical engineers, 3D modeling experts, order managers and audiological support work together on the individual work steps.

In most industries, work is characterized by time constraints. The aim is to achieve the best possible mass production in minimum time. In our Bernafon Manufaktur, manual labor or the human factor plays a major role in production.

Even with the 3D modeling and printing, we have preserved every necessary manual step such as the evaluation of the impression, the creation of the negative form, the constant fit control, and the shell processing with assembly and cutting and post-processing. Automated work is only for scanning, modeling and printing. Conclusion:

Our products are made with 80% manual craftsmanship!


 

HQ: What is the typical client profile of in-the-ear hearing aid users?

C. B.: About 80 % of all people who need a hearing aid want a discreet solution. It is not possible to find a typical profile of in-the-ear hearing aid users. More important in the choice of design is the willingness of the hearing care professional to identify and meet the customer's needs - unless there are physiological or audiological reasons against an in-the-ear fitting.

Due to the very small behind-the-ear hearing aids available today, the acceptance of BTE models has increased and it is becoming increasingly easier to fit BTE models. I know from many conversations with acousticians that the workload of an in-the-ear fitting is estimated to be much higher than that of a BTE fitting and is therefore often avoided. Additionally, there are uncertainties during consultation and ordering. We work against this with regular lectures and in-the-ear workshops in the Berlin Manufaktur.

Our commitment pays off. For hearing care professionals and the hearing aid users. After all, they have the product that they wanted when they first visited the hearing aid clinic. Customer satisfaction and loyalty to the hearing care professional increases and we are happy about our contribution.

HQ: What should a hearing care professional look for when fitting their clients with in-the-ear hearing aids?

C. B.: We have found that a comprehensive consultation with the client by the hearing care professional is crucial for any successful hearing aid fitting - including the in-the-ear fitting. First the client's wishes are assessed. Does the customer attach importance to a cosmetically inconspicuous hearing aid or is the wireless connection a must? Unfortunately, both are not always possible from a technical point of view. At the Bernafon Manufaktur, we place high importance on producing the smallest possible designs. Sometimes a client's ear canal leaves no anatomical choice, but the hearing care professional has mistakenly promised an invisible wireless device. This results in disappointment for the client and is unfortunately sometimes inevitable. We stand by our partners in workshops and by telephone, before, during, and after all assignments.

We aim to reduce the hearing care professionals fear of occlusion for the hearing aid user. We help to analyze the hearing loss regarding the anatomical conditions and select the appropriate vent form to avoid occlusions. Together with the hearing care professional, we decide on feasibility and do not simply produce. Of course, this takes time, but it helps the end user to get the hearing aid he or she wanted.

HQ: How can the service of in-the-ear hearing aids be minimized?

C. B.: A good question. Clients often experience tactile difficulties in handling the in-the-ear hearing aids or have a rough handling of the product. Here the hearing care professional should consider which filters the client can handle. A dry system is also crucial regarding the susceptibility to repairs.

HQ:

Thank you Christian Ball for this interview and thank you to all at Bernafon Manufaktur in Berlin for your passion and dedication shown in meeting the needs of both hearing care professionals and hearing aid users in the manufacturing of in-the-ear hearing aids.

For further information about the Bernafon Manufaktur, visit the German website.

 

About the author:

Tanja Lottaz
Tanja Lottaz, Multimedia Designer EFZ and Dipl. Gestalterin HF in Kommunikationsdesign, with specialty in Interaction Design.
Tanja is Head of digital channels and is in charge of Bernafon digital channels and various digital projects. Being informed about digital standards and trends is part of her job. She analyzes situations and problems, to come up with concepts to solve the problems and address user needs. She has worked for Bernafon since 2011 and has helped to develop many digital marketing projects. When not at work, Tanja is flying through the air doing aerial acrobatics.