Future Proofing a Hearing Aid Production Test at GN ReSound

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"By transitioning from our in-house solution to the NI PXI and NI AudioMASTER solution, we can now execute 10 times as many tests per device without an increase in test time, and have freed up our engineering team to focus on other core business tasks. Additionally, we no longer worry if our platform can handle future test requirements such as radio frequency (RF) telemetry or other unforeseen requirements."

- Johnny Hansen, GN ReSound

The Challenge:
Developing a small-footprint, automated, high-throughput system for the manufacturing test of hearing aids that is capable of scaling with new specifications and technologies.

The Solution:
Working with National Instruments to create a turnkey, PXI-based, single-enclosure solution, the GN ReSound DSA 6000, which includes a custom PXI module to test each hearing aid to our internal standards while testing to the industry’s ANSI 3.22 and IEC 60118 specifications.

Author(s):
Johnny Hansen - GN ReSound

GN ReSound is one of the world’s largest providers of hearing instruments. New innovations in hearing instruments, including using a hearing aid as a Bluetooth headset for a mobile phone and 2.4 GHz connectivity to wireless accessories, has driven us to standardize on a new NI PXI-based test platform so that we can scale to, and stay flexible for, our future testing needs. 

As hearing aid technologies advance and manufacturing demands increase, we need test solutions that can keep up with the evolving industry. Throughout the last 30 years, we have gone through several testing platforms—ranging from a manual test system, to a six-box off-the-shelf system, to a one-box built-in-house test system. Our last test system, the DSA 5000, was built completely in-house by our engineering team at a third of the price of the previous system. This worked well until some of our suppliers went out of business or quit making the components for our system. This is when we decided we needed to reinvest in development and reengineer the test system. At the same time, wireless technologies were introduced into the devices and our in-house platform could not adapt. We decided we wanted to work with a professional company that had expertise in building these types of systems and could deliver some kind of insurance for our systems for the coming years.

The DSA 6000

Because our test system needed to evolve and grow, we required modularity. Additionally, because we wanted to eliminate sustaining efforts for our team, we required as many off-the-shelf technologies as possible. And because our previous solution incorporated too many boxes and cables, we required everything to be in a single enclosure. The NI PXI platform and modular approach met our performance needs and scalability requirements.

The core of the DSA 6000 consists of the NI PXI-4461 dynamic signal analyzer (DSA), which is an ideal match for the IEC and ANSI standards because of the 24-bit resolution and the 118 dB dynamic range I/O. The rest of the PXI system comprises an NI PXI-1036 chassis, an NI PXI-8101 controller, an NI PXI-4110 power supply, a power amplifier module, and a PXI SPEEDLINK car. that is required to communicate to our product while sourcing all the components and handling life-cycle management.

The core software in the system is NI AudioMASTER, which meets all the requirements of the IEC and ANSI standards we must test against. NI TestStand and NI LabVIEW system design software provide the test executive and development tools to keep our sustaining costs low as we bring in new products and features. We also were able to integrate these software layers into our top-level manufacturing software to keep the same look and feel as our past testing platforms.

Results

By transitioning from our in-house solution to the NI PXI and NI AudioMASTER solution, we can now execute 10 times as many tests per device without an increase in test time, and have freed up our engineering team to focus on other core business tasks. Additionally, we no longer worry if our platform can handle future test requirements such as RF telemetry and other unforeseen requirements.

Hearing Aid Production Test System Timeline for GN ReSound

Test Future

Moving forward, our first challenge will be to reduce the upload time of the firmware to the hearing aid device. This process still takes 50 percent of the three- to four-minute end-of-line test time. Second, we will need to continue to adapt to testing new technologies, such as wireless, for hearing aids. The GN ReSound test engineering team feels confident that PXI technologies will grow and scale as test needs evolve.

Author Information:
Johnny Hansen
GN ReSound
jhansen@gnresound.dk

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