3D Printing Custom Earbuds with Formlabs


Industry: Audiology
Application: Earbuds
Benefits of 3D Printing:
– Rapid prototyping
– Low development costs
– Economical manufacturing

Earbuds are the gel-like cups for your ears that make your earphones stay in place. Typically, ear buds are made from silicone rubber or a memory foam. In the case of silicone rubber, the manufacturing process is injection moulding followed by vulcanisation. In the case of memory foam, Reaction Injection Moulding (RIM), a lower pressure process than traditional injection moulding, is the manufacturing method.

As you probably already know, earbuds are mass-produced. In their millions. However, of those, 99 per cent are clones. Custom ear buds play a much, much smaller role in the market, but an essential one for people serious about sound.

An interesting and economical way to manufacture these is with 3D printing. At CES 2018, Massachusetts-based 3D printer manufacturer Formlabs set up a display booth that showcased an entire production process for just that. The booth was a triumph in design, detailing the manufacturing process from an initial in-ear scan to final product.

Manufacturing Custom Earbuds

3D printing is the next logical step for custom earbud production. With it, there’s no need to produce thousands of the same item to recoup development costs. It’s possible to turn a profit manufacturing one set.

Another benefit to 3D printing is that it takes no more time or effort to manufacture a complex shape than a simple one. CAD design allows for rapid changes to design at no cost. Zero tooling costs also mean you can print a whole series of earbuds, concepts and retail units alike, with low production costs.

Formlabs’ production process is illustrated here:

Formlabs workflow production

With it, it’s possible to quickly and affordably produce high volumes of earbuds. The process incorporates all aspects of the traditional development process. The scan section is performed with the 3Shape Phoenix in-ear scanner. The result is a finished product with exceptional quality.

And in this illustration, we can see how the earbuds take shape during processing:

Custom earbuds by Formlabs

In a press release about their custom ear buds, Dávid Lakatos, chief product officer at Formlabs, said: “We’re seeing 2018 as the year custom earbuds will be available to most consumers. This announcement marks a significant use case for 3D printed mass customization at the consumer level, but the implications of the technology go beyond headphones to include hearables. We’re proud to be part of the growing force behind accessible, affordable, high quality 3D printing that is making on-demand production of custom earbuds finally possible.”

The finished earbuds are an excellent product. They offer the long-term wear, comfort, stability, noise reduction and noise cancellation capabilities that audio lovers and performing artists crave. Advancements in 3D printing and scanning have also opened the market to other, albeit similar applications. We recently wrote about a company called Hooke Audio, who used 3D printing to design and conceptualise their Verse headphones.

3D Printer: Form 2.

Material(s) used: Black resin.

This information was first published on the Formlabs website.