News & Articles
Custom-Made for Comfort and Success
We all know the real world... No matter how high the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), employees won't wear hearing protectors if they're not comfortable, convenient, compatible with other personal protective equipment, and allow good communication in the workplace. Custom technology has come a long way in overcoming the objections you encounter with traditional hearing protectors.
What exactly is a custom hearing protector?
A custom hearing protector is a laboratory-made set of earplugs specially created for just one person. First, impressions of the user's ears are taken by an audiologist or other trained and skilled individual. Soft putty-like impression material is injected into the ear canal and allowed to harden or "cure" for about 10-15 minutes (see Examples 1 and 2). When ready, each ear impression is removed from the ear, and sent to an earmold laboratory. The laboratory uses the ear impressions to custom-manufacture a set of earplugs designed to precisely fit the individual's outer ear and ear canal. The amount of noise reduction is determined primarily by the portion of the earplug that fits into the ear canal. Generally, the longer the canal section and the better the fit of this part of the earplug, the higher the attenuation or noise reduction.
Some labs manufacture the earplug by physically creating negative then positive molds from the ear impression. CavCom's lab, however, uses stereolithography (SLA) digital technology, to take a 3-D scan of the ear impression then create the earplug through a 3-D layering manufacturing technique. Final custom earplugs are usually crafted from acrylic, a hard, smooth material (Example 3) or silicone, typically softer and more flexible (Example 4). Laboratories using the earmold technique may destroy impressions and molds immediately, or save them only for a limited time due to storage space limitations. Labs utilizing digital technology, however, typically store electronic files indefinitely for ease in ordering replacements or additional earplug products for the same individual.
Example 1: Taking an ear impression: a foam block is placed in the ear canal, then soft putty-like molding material is placed into the ear and allowed to harden.
Example 2: Once impression material is cured, the ear impression is removed and sent to a lab for manufacture.
Example 3: Final acrylic custom-manufactured earplugs.
Example 4: Final silicone custom-manufactured earplugs.
What are the benefits of custom hearing protectors for the workplace?
- Fit for all: One clear advantage of custom hearing protection is that all sizes and shapes of ears can be accommodated, even when surgery, disease or injury has radically changed the characteristics of the outer ear.
- Consistent protection: Because custom earplugs go in the ear just one way and are designed to fit the individual's ear canal precisely, most studies show that actual protection in the real-world more closely matches laboratory-derived noise reduction predictions than other classes of earplugs.
- Durable, long-lasting: Unlike foam or even most premolded vinyl earplugs, customs are designed to survive for years. A set of custom earplugs can last many years due to the considerable strength and durability of materials. New ear impressions would be needed to address any significant changes to a user's ear canals resulting from substantial weight change, injury, etc.
- Hygienic: Work environments are often hot, dirty, dusty, greasy, or laden with hazardous or irritating chemicals. Unlike typical disposable protectors, which must be rolled between the fingers, custom earplugs do not require compression. They also do not absorb oil and dirt.
- Better for the environment: It can be startling to realize how many foam or other disposable-type earplugs are thrown away every day. For an average workforce, this may translate to literally tens of thousands of discarded earplugs every year! Using a custom product that lasts for years significantly decreases waste and conserves resources. Many clients tell us their clean-up time is reduced as well. Unfortunately, disposable earplugs often find their way to the floor rather than the trash can.
- Personalized attention = motivation: Clearly, one of the major advantages of a custom-made product is the opportunity to boost motivation by individually addressing the employee's needs and concerns.
- Cost effective: Many people are surprised to learn that custom hearing protectors typically cost significantly less in the long run than disposable-type earplugs. To compare cost benefits for your facility, request CavCom's free Return on Investment calculator.
What are the limitations of custom earplugs?
- Only as good as the ear impression: A custom earplug manufactured using the best laboratory technology is only as good as the quality of the original ear impression. It is critical that anyone taking ear impressions is well trained and highly experienced.
- Learning curve: Because a custom hearing protector is so different from traditional earplugs, employees will need initial instruction on how to insert their new customs, as well as a little practice, too. The fact that the earplugs are custom made to fit each ear, however, usually ensures that improper placement is obvious and quickly remedied.
- Not ideal with high employee turnover: Although custom earplugs will last for many years, the cost for purchasing them is incurred up-front when ear impressions are made and earplugs manufactured. If a company has a history of high turnover in the workforce, employers may be reluctant to undertake this cost effective, but long term, investment.
We know that the very best hearing protector is the one a person likes and will wear willingly and consistently. In addition to our custom earplugs, CavCom offers custom electronic earsets for 2-way radio communications in high noise and respirator environments. Contact CavCom to discuss how custom hearing protection can improve voluntary employee participation, reduce costs, and enhance the success of your overall hearing conservation program.