Inventors: Jan Tøpholm, Søren Westermann and Svend Vitting Andersen
Invention: Tailor-made hearing aid
Aware of the drawbacks of traditional hearing-aid design, a team of Danish inventors from the company WIDEX created a new, computer-aided method to manufacture individually-fitted, comfortable hearing-aid devices. Their invention revolutionised the sector and is the design basis for nearly every in-the-canal hearing aid on the market today. It has increased quality of life for millions of people around the world.
Danish inventors Jan Tøpholm, Søren Westermann and Svend Vitting Andersen created a new, computer-aided method to manufacture tailor-made hearing-aid devices. Their invention has revolutionised production of hearing aids and increased quality of life for millions of people around the world.
Until the 1990s manufacturing of hearing aids was a very cumbersome, time-consuming and imprecise process. The result, for millions of hard-of-hearing people around the world, was in-the-canal hearing aids that were uncomfortable and worked poorly. And this meant that many people simply chose not to use them.
Aware of the drawbacks of traditional hearing-aid design, a team of Danish inventors, Jan Tøpholm, CEO of hearing-aid manufacturer Widex, and Søren Westermann, the company's Executive Vice President, descendants of the original founders of Widex, set out to utilise advances in computer technology to improve the comfort of in-the-canal hearing aids.
Working with another Danish inventor, Svend Vitting Andersen, they created a computer-aided method for designing the outer shell of an in-the-ear hearing aid that resulted in a device made to fit the specific contours of the user's ear canal exactly. Years of development work was still needed to turn the invention into a production process; and today the inventors hold more than 30 patents worldwide.
Their unique stereo-lithographic manufacturing method is known as CAMISHA (Computer-Aided Manufacturing of Individual Shells for Hearing Aids), and it has revolutionised the industry.
Their new method uses computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacture to improve production in two ways: by optimising the position of the electronics and by changing the way the shell itself is created. The key to the system is the use of computer technology.
The CAMISHA process starts with an impression of the ear. That is scanned with a laser to get a digital 3D picture. That picture is then manipulated on a computer so that all the components of the finished hearing aid can be placed inside, with their location optimised. This is then printed on a 3D printer, making the finished shell.
The process has two major advantages: cheaper production and a higher-quality product.
Today virtually every hearing aid manufacturer and ear shell lab uses the CAMISHA process. Widex is among the world's six largest manufacturers of hearing aids, with a global market share of approximately 10 per cent, and their technology is licensed to other major hearing aid manufacturers. WIDEX has 32 subsidiaries in different countries around the world and around 3 000 employees, 1 000 of whom are in the Danish headquarters.
According to estimates, there are some 25 to 50 million users of hearing aids globally. It is a growing market, not least because of the aging population – there are estimates there will be around 700 million people with moderate/severe hearing loss by 2015.
Since CAMISHA, the company has come out with numerous other innovations including the world’s first fully digital in-the-ear hearing aid (1995); the world’s first hearing aid designed specifically for babies (2010) and the world's first receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) super powered hearing aid (2011).