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
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
- A lower overall cost (10% lower) and a more reproducible product.
- Lower cost of electronics allows an enhanced rechargeable battery
- 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.