3D Printing: This Bud’s for You

Earbuds are mass customized using additive manufacturing.

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One of the first companies founded on the principle of individualized manufacturing puts AM to work right out front in its retail lobby. Intriguingly named Normal, the company was launched last July in New York City to make custom earphones with a personalized fit, using 3D printing. Started by Nikki Kaufman (pictured), her company is one of only a small handful (apart from service bureaus) whose business is based on making proprietary products with additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing.

Kaufman, 29, started her company out of a quest for earphones that aren’t uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. She tried dozens of commercial earbuds without success and considered having a custom pair made. But she learned that would involve a visit to a doctor’s office, would take three to six weeks, and cost up to $2000. She decided she could do better on her own.

Normal makes custom earbuds with a personalized fit in as little as 48 hr and for $199, including shipping and tax. All you need is a free iTunes or Android app that walks you through steps of photographing your ears, choosing among several color options, and ordering the earphones.

The retail lobby of her store is also the manufacturing area. Set flush into the walls are eight Fortus 250mc 3D printers from Stratasys, Ltd., Eden Prairie, Minn. They operate silently, producing the earpiece that fits your ear cavity, using the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, which extrudes fine molten strands of thermoplastic—ABS, in this case—in thin layers. Normal also uses FDM to make jigs and fixtures for its manufacturing needs.

(More details on Normal’s use of FDM will appear next month in a special supplement on Additive Manufacturing to accompany the February issues of Plastics Technology, MoldMaking Technology, and Modern Machine Shop magazines.)

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One of the first companies founded on the principle of individualized manufacturing puts AM to work right out front in its retail lobby.