3D Printing Custom Headphones for the Ultimate Fit
3D Printing Stories
The earphone accessory market is exploding with a wide variety of products flooding the market and apparently unabated public demand. Most manufacturers still can’t seem solve the problem of a one size-fits-all earphone, because it is nearly impossible to create an earphone that comfortably fits all types of users.
Even the largest makers of earphones have tried, Apple’s EarPods, which were designed for optimum fit after tens of thousands of ear sizes and shapes were taken into consideration, often fail to fit right. Good fit often affects sound quality and use, since earphones are expected to be worn for prolonged periods of time. Some earphones come with various tip sizes to try and fit various ears, but this isn’t doesn’t always fit well.
Customized production in mass manufacturing scale
Earphone maker Normal has cracked this problem in the best way possible, by creating customized products on a mass manufacturing scale.
Nikki Kaufman, Normal’s founder and CEO, says her own frustrating experiences with ill-fitting, painful earphones allowed her to discover that no two ears are the same, even on the same person. In other words, it’s “normal” for our ears to be unique.
Her search ultimately led her to a process offered by audiologists in which silicone is poured into each ear to make individual molds. The molds are then used to create customized earphones that are shipped to the customer several weeks later at a cost of up to several thousand dollars.
“I knew that there had to be a better way. I began to wonder if I could make customized earphones with 3D printing,” said Kaufman.
Solving a need through personalization
Through Normal’s mobile app, or in-store at the company’s factory and flagship retail location in the Chelsea district of New York, customers take photos of their ears. The then select the colour of their earphones from seven proprietary colors of ABS thermoplastic, as well as the colour of various hardware components, and the colour and length of the cables.
Once an order is submitted, each pair is engineered, manufactured, and assembled on-site, and delivered anywhere in the US in as little as 48 hours.
How is this possible? Ten FDM-based Fortus 250mc 3D Printers from Stratasys line the perimeter of the store so customers can see the digital manufacturing process firsthand. The finishing touches are added when a Normal team member etches the customer’s name into a carrying case that has been laser-cut to hold that specific pair of earphones.
It’s a unique product and process that is marketed as “one size fits none.”
3D printing changes the game
Kaufman knew immediately which 3D printer brand she wanted to purchase.
“I was already familiar with Stratasys 3D Printers, so I knew they were the ones I wanted to use because they would give us the high resolution quality, the ease of use for our employees and the speed required to produce a premium-quality, mass-produced consumer product.”
The earphones feature 14 mm neodymium dynamic drivers, a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, 109 dB per mW sensitivity, a total harmonic distortion of less than 1 percent, and 32 Ohm impedance. There is also a three-button remote on the cable and a gold-plated 3.5 mm jack for plugging into an audio player.
“We’re really excited to be using 3D printing for Normals because that is what allows us to get the personalized fit to the customer in as little as 48 hours, at a price point that makes sense for us and the customer,” said Kaufman.
“It also allows us to be super agile with the color selections, the post-processing and all of the finishing touches we do to make Normals personalized to fit your ear.”
Normal Headphones makes a great case for the use of 3D printing in manufacturing. Watch the video above to hear her insights on the next industrial revolution.