Materialise Releases Rapid Shell Modeling Software

Materialise announces the release of its ‘Rapid Shell Modelling’ (RSM) software. Industry leader Phonak currently relies on RSM for the automated design and rapid manufacturing of hearing aid shells. After undergoing four years of internal development, the software is now being introduced for general sale. Over the years, it has proven to speed up the design and manufacturing process, to simplify the reproduction of a hearing aid, to increase accuracy and to smooth the transition from a manual, labour-intensive process into an automated one.

After an initial exclusivity period of four years, all parties have agreed that Materialise can launch its RSM software into the hearing aid market. RSM was conceived in 2001, when Materialise joined with Phonak to develop this highly automated shell modeling application. The goal was to improve efficiency, quality and reproducibility in hearing aid design and manufacturing by setting up an innovative end-to-end process. This process includes digitally capturing the ear canal geometry, interactive 3D modeling of the shells and direct manufacturing in batch processes with rapid prototyping equipment. As of today, other hearing aid manufacturers can now take advantage of this intelligent application to automate, optimise, and speed up their business processes.

RSM software reads a 3D scan of the ear impression and guides the operators step-by-step through the shell design process. The steps include fitting the raw impression to the correct instrument size, converting it to a shell, adding a venting channel, simulating the placement of components, integrating a wax guard and a faceplate, and performing quality control tasks. The result is a geometry that can be read directly by a rapid prototyping machine. Throughout the process, RSM’s intelligent design automation tools and ear-anatomy recognition capabilities make the life of the operator as easy as possible. The visualization and device-type-aware, automated placement of the different electronic components guarantee an optimal design, making hearing aids more compact and less visible in the patient's ear.

A single hearing aid shell can be detailed and modeled in four to six minutes and the left and right shells can be produced simultaneously. After modeling these shells, the geometries and the steps taken to produce them are archived automatically, supporting the production of remakes and replacement devices. A customizable database interface offers the option to integrate RSM smoothly into the scanning infrastructure and existing ERP and/or ordering systems. In addition, Materialise offers a wide range of specialized RP tools, which create a perfect link with different production technologies (laser sintering, stereolithography, DLP etc.).

The RSM project represents over 30 years of research and development and is proving to be a winner. Phonak and other hearing aid manufacturers are successfully building hearing aid shells directly from designs produced by RSM in their various production sites worldwide. With more then 1.5 million shells already produced, the results show that the project definitely achieved its goals. The Materialise Software Development Services (SDS) team continues to further fine tune and improve the application, and is now working on version 4.0, which is due in early 2006.

About Materialise
Materialise started out in 1990 as a rapid prototyping service bureau. Since then, it has grown to become one of the leaders in software development for rapid prototyping and manufacturing processes. Materialise software equips customers to accomplish their most challenging tasks with ease. The software can be summed up this way: integrated solutions whose key element is design automation, and whose goal is to offer a competitive advantage by driving efficiency and cutting costs. The company has development, sales and training offices all over the world. Its software development team is the largest in the market.

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