Additive Manufacturing | 2 MINUTE READ

3D-Printed Headphones Receive Cool Idea! Award from Protolabs

The grant helps Tucson startup meet customization requirements during device’s trial stage.


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Tucson-based startup, SafKan, the latest Protolabs, Maple Plain, Minn., Cool Idea! Award winner, is introducing 3D-printed headphones with a unique twist—they can professionally clean a patient’s ear in 35 seconds. SafKan has developed the first automated ear cleaning device for clinical use called OtoSet.

Co-founded by brothers Sahil and Aadil Diwan, OtoSet went through several iterations, made possible by the team at Protolabs. With help from Protolabs’ Cool Idea! Award, which included in-kind machining and industrial-grade 3D printing services, SafKan was able to successfully meet various customization requirements during OtoSet’s pivotal trial stage. SafKan relied on the grant to remove the financial burden from clinical trials to quickly place working prototypes in the hands of physicians.

“Without this grant, it would take more time,” Sahil says. “This allows us to build these devices, have them be the real deal, and get them to physicians quickly.” The Diwan brothers leaned on Protolabs’ work in Polyjet 3D printing and CNC machining, using 14 unique parts from the digital manufacturer. Once made, the parts for multiple devices were shipped to Tucson, Ariz., where they are assembled and tested by SafKan.

"One of the largest segments we serve as a digital manufacturing company is the medical and health care industry," says Protolabs President and CEO Vicki Holt. "So when the opportunity comes to support amazing products like OtoSet—devices that are solving real problems for its users—I'm more than thrilled with the fact that we can provide a manufacturing grant to do that."

Every year more than 12 million Americans visit their physicians for impacted earwax removal, which occurs when enough earwax accumulates to cause symptoms such as pain, fullness, itching, odor, tinnitus, discharge, cough, or hearing loss. The headphones have disposable silicone nozzles that spray a warm saline solution against the walls of the ear canal while extracting the solution and wax back into the nozzles and disposable outflow containers, avoiding messy spills. Long-term, SafKan plans to roll out a consumer version of the device but for now OtoSet is to be administered by health care providers.

“It’s pretty easy to design headphones on your computer and 3D print it,” says co-founder Sahil Diwan. “But then you need to take that to the next level and start to commercialize it. Protolabs has been really helpful with our engineering team, using experience that we don’t have in-house to get our device ready to go to market.”

Since completing two clinical trials, OtoSet is slated to be introduced in a beta program in several cities including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tucson, Houston, and Philadelphia. With funding from the Cool Idea! Award, SafKan has developed industrial-grade prototypes that are now being tested by more than 50 physicians across the country.

Each year, Protolabs awards an aggregate of up to $250,000 in Protolabs manufacturing services to innovative thinkers who can use their grant towards building prototypes or even an initial production run.