ReSound’s announcement that its iSolate Nantotech protective coating has reduced moisture-related repairs to its hearing aids by 50 percent since its introduction six months ago is the latest example of a quiet revolution in modern materials that is transforming the hearing aid industry.
As the spotlight has been shining on new sound processing systems and other software-driven bells and whistles that have improved digital hearing aids enormously in the past two years, the leading manufacturers have also been experimenting with nanotech-based materials, water-resistant coatings, and ceramic housings that have made hearing aids more comfortable, more durable, and far less likely to require repairs. In an industry historically marked by unusually high product return rates and high numbers of customers who stop wearing their hearing aids shortly after buying them, this revolution in materials is driving higher levels of customer satisfaction with more comfortable and reliable products.
ReSound’s iSolate nanotech coating, now used in all of ReSound’s hearing aids, establishes a thin protective layer that bonds at the molecular level with the internal and external components of the hearing aid, shielding them without affecting their performance. The application process, which is done in a vacuum chamber, ensures global coating of all components inside and out. Liquids or moisture coming into contact with the hearing aids simply roll off without being absorbed.
Because moisture related failure is one of the main causes of hearing-aid returns, the innovation has had a dramatic impact on product reliability. ReSound said that in a review of 50,000 hearing aids sold in the first six months since its introduction, it found that the iSolate nanotech protective coating decreased moisture and debris related repairs by 50 percent.
ReSound’s innovation is only the latest in a series of new materials and manufacturing processes announced by industry leaders.
- Starkey Laboratories’ Advanced HydraShield moisture protection system “integrates nano-coating, unibody construction and smart component placement,” which the company claims “provides 100 percent resistance to water, humidity, perspiration and corrosion, both inside and out.”
- Phonak’s “high-tech ceramic housings” are more attractive and comfortable because they are scratch resistant, they adapt to body temperature more quickly and help prevent perspiration in or behind the ear, they are hypo-allergenic, and they are shock-resistant.
- Oticon says its new super-power Chili hearing aid’s “unique shock absorbing receiver mounting prevents it from breaking should the instrument be dropped or fall off the ear,” while a “full body nano-coating” and internal seal protect the electronic parts from water, moisture, and dirt.
- And Cochlear Ltd says its Nucleus 5 cochlear implant, made with high-tech materials including water-resistant batteries, can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes without failing.
And we can expect to see more announcements like these–although ReSound is the first manufacturer I know of who has actually documented the benefits of new materials by tracking a reduction in repair rates–because reliability is a critical factor in the success of any new in-ear or behind-the-ear product. Any audiologist or hearing aid designer can tell you that the inner ear is one of the most hostile places on the planet for miniature, high-performance, digital electronic devices. It’s wet, humid, and full of potential infectious agents. And because the devices themselves are so tiny, they are far too easy for large human fingers (especially for those of us who are “all thumbs”), to drop on the floor and otherwise abuse. Therefore the space-age materials that are making today’s hearing aids more durable and comfortable than ever before may be as important to their acceptance by more users as their ability to provide high-quality amplified sound.