About the Hearing Matters Podcast
The Hearing Matters Podcast discusses hearing technology (more commonly known as hearing aids), best practices, and a growing national epidemic - Hearing Loss. The show is hosted by father and son - Blaise Delfino, M.S. - HIS and Dr. Gregory Delfino, CCC-A. Blaise Delfino and Dr. Gregory Delfino treat patients with hearing loss at Audiology Services, located in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and East Stroudsburg, PA.
The Lehigh Valley’s First Ear Mold Lab
In this episode Blaise Delfino interviews Bob Holbroook and Ed Graham of ProtoCAM Additive Manufacturing in Allentown, Pa. Both Ed and Bob have extensive experience in the additive manufacturing field. (Additive manufacturing is more commonly known as 3-D printing.) Ed has been with ProtoCAM since 1996 after graduating from college as a polymer engineer.
Bob owned his own injection molding company and began working at ProtoCAM After selling his business. ProtoCAM was Bob’s prototype, so his background combined with Ed’s engineering skills made for the perfect match. Together with CEO of ProtoCAM, Ron Belknap, the three have a total 75 years of experience.
An Idea Meets Manufacturing
Blaise met Ed and Bob at a conference where Blaise was giving a talk on Fader Plugs, the world’s first adjustable, mechanical ear plug, which he invented and patented. The ProtoCAM employees immediately wanted to get involved. They offered to help Blaise with the manufacturing of Fader Plugs.
Both were excited to get involved in the project, however, Bob was hesitant about making the fine parts inside the Fader Plugs and their biocompatibility. However, they were able to overcome the anticipated problems and move forward.
The filter was the start of ProtoCAM’s relationship with Fader Plugs. After several design iterations, Bob and Ed realized this was something that had never been developed before. Neither of them knew much about audiology in general, so it was a huge learning experience for everyone. After three iterations of the filter, it was recommended that the filter size be decreased. They did manage to decrease it by 67 percent; however, it did not function correctly.
This technology will enable a turn-around time of only a couple of days. This is important because those that need Fader Plugs are construction workers, musicians, people with hyperacusis, or anyone around continual noxious noise. It is important to get people into Fader Plugs as soon as possible so they can preserve their hearing.
New Lab is Introduced
As a result of the partnership between Fader Plugs and ProtoCAM, the first ear mold lab ever in the Lehigh Valley has been introduced. This is groundbreaking. It is also something that ProtoCAM CEO Ron Belknap has always wanted to do: manufacture a product from start to finish.
A Contribution to Society
ProtoCAM is excited to be helping others maintain their hearing health. They are also very dedicated to their customers, in this case Fader Plugs, and want to manufacture only the best, highest quality goods. Also knowing that the entire product was invented and manufactured in the Lehigh Valley is thrilling.
You're tuned into the Hearing Matters Podcast with Dr. Gregory Delfino, and Blaise Delfino of Audiology Services and Fader Plugs. The show that discusses hearing technology, best practices, and a growing national epidemic hearing loss. Today, we have Bob Holbrook and Ed Graham from ProtoCAM Additive Manufacturing. Ed and Bob, welcome to the show.Ed Graham:
Thanks. Blaise is really an honor for us to be here today. And we're excited to be on this podcast. It's actually I think, my first podcast officially soBlaise Delfino:
Get out!Ed Graham:
It's it's exciting for me. We're honored to be here.Bob Holbrook:
Me too Blaise. Thanks for having us.Blaise Delfino:
Absolutely. It's a pleasure to have you on the show. Both of you are friends of mine mentors of mine, and really excited to share both of your stories. Now, Ed, can you share with us your experience in the additive manufacturing industry, and you really both have quite the background and what we would consider our industry pioneers.Ed Graham:
Yeah, no, it's been a great industry for me. And it's still a relatively young industry, I kind of grew up in it, I'll say, you know, after college, I went to Penn State University plastics engineering at the Barron school college, and came out thought I was going to be getting involved in injection molding, and one thing led to another and I had a job in that space and I heard about ProtoCAM. I went up to check them out to see what it was all about. Now, ProtoCAM started in 1994. So just to put a time slot on this so 1994, 1996 is when I interviewed there and went up to check it out. And I saw this little machine with a laser running around in it. And I was like, I don't know what this is, like, I thought I was all up on technology, because I just graduated college. And I'm like, I don't know what this is, but I definitely want to be part of this, like I need to be a part of this. And at that time, it was called 3D printing, well, it wasn't even 3D printing, it was called rapid prototyping.Blaise Delfino:
Wow. Okay.Ed Graham:
And we were using stereo lithography, which is the grandfather of all 3D printing technologies that most people today probably don't even understand that because in the colleges and universities today, they're all using filament based systems, they don't have the funding to get a large frame SLA type of machine.Blaise Delfino:
Makes sense.Ed Graham:
So yeah, I mean, you know, I started in 1996, I've been there ever since the industry has changed dramatically over the time that I've been there from, again, starting off with rapid prototyping. You know, we were making one part two parts. We were working with entrepreneurs and vendors, we were working with OEMs, and larger companies from all industries. So that's what really made it cool for me is because it's like one minute, I'm working on automotive stuff. The next minute, I'm working on medical stuff, the next minute consumer goods.Blaise Delfino:
So different!Ed Graham:
Yeah, all over the place.Blaise Delfino:
No day is the same.Ed Graham:
Not even close. But the technology that we had was pretty groundbreaking. It was really exciting stuff and at those early days, if we made five parts for somebody like five, they need five, we're high fiving, and we just hung the moon and so that was the best thing. And now, you know, the industry has changed so much that we're starting to go into additive manufacturing. So we changed our logo, we changed our branding, it used to be excellence in rapid prototyping in 2013, we changed it to excellence in additive manufacturing, because the technology has grown up and people are starting to recognize that this is a viable solution for true manufacturing, not just prototyping, which kind of lends us to why we're here today.Blaise Delfino:
Yeah, absolutely. And and Ed, you know, actually what you just shared with our listeners right now, I didn't know maybe 40% of that. I've known both you and Bob for going on well over four and a half years. Bob, you yourself are a serial entrepreneur, you owned your own manufacturing plant. Share with us your experience in the additive manufacturing industry, because again, both of you have extensive experience and quite the story.Bob Holbrook:
Thank you. I did own an injection molding company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And I come at this from a different perspective in that production was my prototyper. So I used them starting in 1994. And they helped me build a lot of concept models and advanced quality planning parts, so that I can meet with the engineering groups that were our customers. And we build a fast friendship Ed and I met in 96 when he first started and since he was a polymer engineer, it was a natural fit to work with us in the injection molding side. One thing led to another we stayed friends over the years and after the sale, my company wound up working a deal to work for ProtoCAM in my twilight years as I approach retirement.Blaise Delfino:
Wow, that's incredible. So both of you and with Ron, who is the CEO of ProtoCAM combined well over 75-80 years of experience in the additive manufacturing industry. Essentially that's who rapid prototypers and individuals who are in need of manufacturing should really team up with. Your experience is so in depth and you all have as a company accomplished so much and how did we meet? Well Fader Plugs, right? Fader Plugs are the world's first custom adjustable ear plug and ProtoCAM believed in our company and said, you know what, this is something we can absolutely help you with and we want to help you with. So essentially you know, Ed, when Fader Plugs came to your team with the Fader Plug idea. What were some of the initial thoughts that you had? Like, was there any apprehension because this was a never been seen before product, so a lot of research and development had to be conducted.Ed Graham:
Yeah, no, I mean, I was extremely excited. The first time that I met you, Blaise was at the tech bridge. Yes. conference, and you were giving a speech about fader plug. And it was something that stuck with me even to this day, because you went through this exercise of asking the audience, how many of you go to the dentist, and I don't know how many people were in the room, let's just call it 100 people and the hands go up. And how many people go get your eyesight checked, and the hands go up, and how many people get physical and the hands go up, and how many people get their hearing checked? And there was probably literally maybe three people!Blaise Delfino:
And yeah, and I was just like, wow, this is pretty interesting. Like, this is really something that there's need for this and something that, you know, I was excited about right away instantly. And so it was like, you know, right after that I was like, hey, come over introduce myself. Hey, Blaise, you know, what are you working on? How can we help you so on and so forth? You know, that was it. That was the start of it, and we've been full blast ever since.Blaise Delfino:
And it's been quite the journey. Bob, what was your initial reaction when we came up with the Fader Plug idea?Bob Holbrook:
Well, mine's a little bit different. I said to Ed, can we really help these guys, because I was concerned about the feature size, the fine parts of the Fader Plug in also the biocompatibility. So we were able to mitigate those and move forward, so that was really my initial concern.Blaise Delfino:
And because the Fader Plug is the world's first adjustable mechanical ear plug, the filter itself needs to fit into the human ear canal, which doesn't have much real estate to begin with. Ed, share with our listeners, the different iterations and pivots that you made as a company, and we've made as a team to really get us to the point where we're at today.Ed Graham:
Yeah, so the filter was the start of our relationship, right, we were just working on the filter components, we went through some design iterations with you, you know, on the acoustic side of it, and making sure the design was there, we went through, and we did the injection mold tool, and then we got some more feedback that things needed to be adjusted and changed. And what we were discovering was something that wasn't developed before. So so we're working together again, this is an industry that I had no experience with, don't know anything about audiology and what makes something good or not good. So a lot of learning has happened for us, it's been a really cool journey to see where the filter itself has progressed to from the start, because it's completely changed. You know, we went through design one, design one modified it changed it smaller, bigger. Now we're up to, you know, our last iteration where we just increased it again, for some moreBlaise Delfino:
You know, it brings me back and I love the fact that we're recording this episode, because it really does bring me back to when we started this journey, and how far we've come. And I'll never forget when we had three different design iterations, and then it was recommended, we decrease the overall size of the Fader Plug filter that controls how much noise enters your ear, and we actually decrease that size by 67%. I mean, we did it, but it didn't function correctly, and of course, we purchased a micro injection mold. Ed, can you explain to our listeners, what the difference is briefly between a micro injection mold and a 3D printer? Because of course, our parts are 3D printed.Ed Graham:
Yeah. So the difference is, is that the 3D printing was really used as a tool to prototype the filters. And we initially were not thinking that this would be the way we're going to ultimately manufacture them. We thought this is just the first stage, it's for the prototyping, the development and then when we felt that that was far enough along, we were going to move over to injection molding them because of the detail the size, the accuracy that needed to be there. So with our industry, it's actually progressed. It's progressing so fast that at the time that we started this journey with Fader, the technology that we're using now didn't exist.Blaise Delfino:
It didn't exist, literally. And so as we've gone through this experience, and went through the molding, we've acquired a new technology, the DLS, digital light synthesis technology from carbon, so we brought that on board and discovered that this is a manufacturing process. This is a means of manufacturing and let's take a look at this. Let's take a look at can we actually do this? Can we manufacture these with this technology? We print some parts, we tested them. Blaise, you always do everything through data driven results, which is always key for this.Blaise Delfino:
Thank you, we've learned.Ed Graham:
Yeah, this is this is not a it sounds better. It's data driven analytics that got us to where we are, and we discovered that the materials are capable of getting the detail that's needed. Because to the listeners who can't see one of the insides of these filters, there's some really detailed, small geometry extremely small, tiny geometry that personally I need an eye loop to see. Now, when I started in ProtoCAM in 1996, I may not have needed that, but today, I need it. So there's some really fine, extremely fine details inside of these things that make them function the way they need to properly. Yeah, the technology has come, and here we are, we're going to manufacture these with additive manufacturing, and it's really exciting.Blaise Delfino:
It's exciting, and what does that mean, with regard to the turnaround time? Bob, we have a lot of hearing healthcare professionals around the country and also internationally, the UK who are interested in fitting their patients with Fader Plugs, and what can they expect with regard to a turnaround time?Bob Holbrook:
I would say rapid turnaround, definitely within a couple of days for us to be able to make the impression, to do the scan, and to make the parts.Blaise Delfino:
It's incredible. Because time is so important today, and we want to get our patients into the Fader Plug as quickly as possible to experience what our product does and how it can help them. Now who is the Fader Plug for? It's for individuals who are working construction, musicians, really anyone around noxious noise, patients who present with hyperacusis or misophonia. And I'm so excited to share this with our listeners that recently ProtoCAM and Fader Plugs got together to discuss how we can expand our production partnership, and this resulted in ProtoCAM and Fader Plugs, introducing the first earmold lab, ever, to exist in the Lehigh Valley. Ed, what does this mean for ProtoCAM, and what are you most excited about this new production capability? Because this is groundbreaking stuff.Ed Graham:
Yeah, it is, and it's really one of a kind and it's something that as a company, ProtoCAm, Ron Belknap, the CEO has always wanted to manufacture a product, something that we've helped bring along from start to finish and do true and manufacturing. And this journey has brought us to that. And you know, along the way, we talked about the filter, but what we discovered through working with you more was that, hey, maybe we can start working on the actual ear mold itself, and the silicone portion of that. So we started the journey with just a filter, and now we're starting to say, hey, well, maybe ProtoCAM can help with more things here. And that's when we decided to go with the lab and Blaise was so generous to come over and actually perform the ear molds on myself and Ron Belknap, the CEO, and some of the other people, and we took them and we have a scanner. So we scan them and started to create the digital CAD file. So now it's a digital process. It's a digital workflow, and this is completely customizable. So this isn't a off the shelf. This is for you, and that's where you guys come in, and we take that data, put it into the system, scan it in, fit it in CAD, fit the filters into it, and produce the entire process through additive manufacturing, 3D printing.Blaise Delfino:
And what's so incredible about ProtoCAM is number one your thought leaders in the industry. But when we go back to that making data driven decisions, and as a younger entrepreneur, that's something that we had to learn as a team. And by the grace of God, thank you for your mentorship because you've absolutely continued to say data driven, data driven, data driven, and we have minimum viable products and we've tested the Fader Plugs that ProtoCAM has manufactured. Bob, you've been in the manufacturing industry throughout your entire career. You even owned your own manufacturing plant. What are you most excited about with this new venture with the ear mold lab?Bob Holbrook:
Well, for me, certainly the contribution to the wellness of everybody and just the fact that everything was invented and manufactured here in the Lehigh Valley. I'm so proud.Blaise Delfino:
Absolutely and 100% made in the United States of America. That is so awesome, and we're so excited to help so many patients, whether they present with hyperacusis or whether they're weekend warriors using a chainsaw or the lawn mower, that's so exciting. Ed, what makes ProtoCAM stand out as compared to other additive manufacturing companies in the industry?Ed Graham:
You've experienced a journey with us, and part of what does make us stand out is our attention to our customers, our customer service, our support, our willingness to go the extra mile, our willingness to try to discover more ways in how we can help you how we can better your product, how we can make you successful. And we really do put a lot of effort into that, in my opinion, we go above and beyondBlaise Delfino:
You do!Ed Graham:
What any of our competitors would do. And having Bob on board, it's been an amazing experience. I mean, Bob is a great, great guy, and he really goes that extra mile as well. So it all fit into the culture of ProtoCAM, and that's what we always wanted to do, right? We want to develop products make the world a better place, And this product alone is such an amazing product that we're so proud to be part of, you know, we're not just making a widget.Blaise Delfino:
We're making something here that is going to be for the better health of somebody.Blaise Delfino:
And that's a pretty exciting part of this journey for us.Blaise Delfino:
Because we know that untreated hearing loss has different comorbidities such as cognitive decline, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, increased risk of falling, and what we're doing as a team is raising awareness of the importance of wearing hearing protection. And you're right the Fader Plug is not a widget. This is a first of its kind the world's first custom adjustable ear plug. It's so incredible, and I'm so excited to continue to be on this journey with you. And to echo what you said Ed, ProtoCAM does always go above and beyond. I'll never forget the Connecticut trip that we made Bob, we were going to take a tour of a microinjection manufacturing plant, and you said you know what, I'm going to go with you guys, I'll meet you there. And that really is above and beyond. And that's what we hope to mirror here at Fader Plugs, LLC. Bob, what are you most excited about with regard to the relationship between ProtoCAM and Fader Plugs? Because this is the first of its kind and I think we're going to change a lot of lives.Bob Holbrook:
Again, just so proud to be part of a unbelievable wellness journey together, we're going to help a lot of people.Blaise Delfino:
Ed, what are you most excited about, would you say?Ed Graham:
I'm really excited about again doing manufacturing here in the Lehigh Valley supporting our local community and using the additive manufacturing technology to finally produce an end use product, the entire product will be created with additive technology. It's the first of its kind, and it's really exciting. It's something that I personally have wanted to do my entire career in this space, and now it's coming to fruition and I'm extremely excited about it.Blaise Delfino:
Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it first ProtoCAM Additive Manufacturing and Fader Plugs LLC introducing the first ever era mold lab in the Lehigh Valley. For more information visit ProtoCAM Additive Manufacturing and FaderPlugs.com. You're tuned into the Hearing Matters Podcast with Dr. Gregory Delfino and Blaise Delfino of Audiology Services and Fader Plugs. Today, we had Ed Graham and Bob Holbrook from ProtoCAM Additive Manufacturing located in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Until next time, hear life's story.