Siemens Hearing Instruments Ltd has put the success and impressive time-to-market of its Vibe hearing aid down to using Autodesk Inventor software to design the instrument.
The company says the new product is more like a piece of jewellery than the traditional beige, bulky hearing instrument as it comes in a range of colours and patterns. It is also innovative, being the first hearing instrument that fits securely into the crest of the ear, leaving the ear canal open.
The project began almost two years ago. John Bailey, mechanical engineer at Siemens Hearing Instruments, said: “Our brief was to design something very different for the hearing aid industry – a unobtrusive yet funky device aimed at both the younger hard of hearing and also the baby boom generation, who are now getting older but refuse to compromise fashion and style. We had to fit numerous components into a very small casing – it was quite a challenge.”
The designs were shown to focus groups but the reaction was not too positive and Siemens postponed the project and nearly shelved it for good.
However, the company resurrected the idea and redesigned the product using Autodesk Inventor. Bailey said: “I’d been using Inventor for around six years but the company traditionally uses a competitive product – and as the UK engineering division had been transferred to Singapore it made sense to standardise. However, I knew that Inventor would be far more intuitive and I would have much more scope to design in original shapes and sizes.”
Bailey says that using Autodesk Inventor increased speed of the design process for the product. “I only had to think of a shape and a few moments later it was on the screen. I could experiment and make changes easily and quickly, knowing that every other aspect of the design would be automatically updated,” he said.
Further designs for The Vibe were shown to focus groups and after consulting with audiologists to test their viability, a final design was chosen.
Bailey said: “Because I was using Inventor, I could easily transfer the information into DWFs [Design Web Format] or JPEGs if I wanted to use an image of the model in a PowerPoint. This really helps in this type of consultative situation where non CAD users need to have an input.”
The final product is a lozenge-shaped device, covered by interchangeable caps. The microphone is positioned to utilise the contours of the outer ear and funnel sound into the ear canal. The Vibe uses SoundSmoothing technology, said to be the most effective transient noise reduction technology in the industry. The company says it can filter out sounds such as rustling paper and clanging plates without impacting on the sound of voices.
Autodesk reseller Midas provided support and training throughout the design process. “I make sure I keep up with regular training from Midas whenever there’s a new version to ensure I maximise the new features,” said Bailey.
After a successful launch in the US, The Vibe has now launched in the UK. It was Highly Commended at the 2008 Horners Awards, set up to honour imaginative or innovative contributions to the plastics industry.
“We’ve made a Union Jack version especially for the occasion. After all we’re very proud that it’s a groundbreaking British design – and one that looks set to be a worldwide success,” said Bailey.