Title
A Directional Hearing Aid System
Microcontroller Technology reduces Costs and increases Profits and Sales
Technologies used

    Microcontroller

Industrial sector (PRODCOM code)
    331 Medical Instruments
Abstract

Select Hearing Systems Ltd, founded in 1991, is based at Nelson in the North West of England. The company had, prior to this project, one employee supplemented with part-time and temporary staff, but provides R & D, manufacturing, and distribution using networks of subcontractors. The company was established in order to develop and exploit the Managing Director's invention, the CONVERSOR, a patented miniature radio microphone system providing aural focus to users of standard hearing aids. The turnover is 250 KEur (1999), the industrial sector is: 3310 (Medical Instruments) in the NACE classification widely used in Europe. This is the company's sole product and is implemented using discrete components and ICs mounted on PCBs. The customers are manufacturers and distributors of hearing aids in the UK.

The product comprises an unobtrusive, portable FM radio microphone which can zoom in on specific sounds and which communicates with a miniature FM radio receiver, worn as a pendant, this inductively re-transmits the focussed sound to the hearing aid, by-passing the internal microphone of the hearing aid. The inability to cope with the frequency standards of countries other than the UK limits the acceptance by multi-national organisations.

The aim of this project was to create a version of the CONVERSOR which can be adapted by software. This would make it possible to meet the frequency requirements of other countries, which differ from those of the UK. Also it would be possible to introduce a level of personalization through programmable tonal control and thereby enable the company to manufacture just one version of the hardware in high volume, hence reducing the costs and increasing profits. A microcontroller-based system was used to implement the improvements to the product.

The project lasted 9 months, the FUSE investment of 60 KEur funded the prototype, which is estimated to require a further investment of 40 KEur to bring the product to market. The project has been an outstanding success with sales to a major multi-national hearing aid manufacturer. The payback period is estimated at 6 months and the return on the FUSE investment is 2000% over a period of 3.5 years. Other benefits for the company included:

  • A lower overall cost (10% lower) and a more reproducible product.
  • Lower cost of electronics allows an enhanced rechargeable battery system.
  • Better battery performance commands a higher price.
  • Larger markets as a result of international compatibility.
  • One additional employee recruited with electronics design skills which were further developed during the project.
  • Manager trained in the management and evaluation of microelectronics projects and having some background design knowledge.
  • A new product exploiting the microcontroller technology in another application area involving deafness.
Company

    Select Hearing Systems Ltd
    Glenfield Park
    Lomeshaye
    Nelson, UK
    BB9 7DR


Detailed information

You can also benefit from microelectronics

Microcontroller technology provided Select Hearing Systems Ltd. with the means of improving its products and enhancing its market position. You can also achieve significant benefits by acquiring the right microelectronics technology and utilising it in your product or manufacturing process. You can get help from FUSE to realise this.

FUSE is a technology transfer programme, funded by the European Commission to stimulate the wider use of microelectronics technologies by European enterprises to increase their competitiveness and enhance their economic growth. The demonstrator described here is one of many examples in the public FUSE portfolio covering the whole spectrum of microelectronics technologies and spanning a wide range of applications and industry sectors.

FUSE provides you with:

  • Best practice in acquiring specific microelectronics technologies and conducting full development projects through the FUSE portfolio of real life demonstrator documents.
  • Local training and expert support to plan your innovation realistically and help you conduct your project successfully.

Further information and support relating to this and other demonstrators can be obtained from the addresses below.


Further information   Guiding Technology Transfer Node
For further information and support regarding this case study, please contact a Technology Transfer Node (TTN) in your region.
Homepage: http://www.fuse-network.com
Bolton Institute of Higher Education
Technology Development Unit
Deane Road
BL3 5AB Bolton
United Kingdom