Ken TeeseKen Teese,
product manager,
Sonion Microtronic

The Hearing Review recently had a discussion with Ken Teese of Sonion Microtronic Inc, Minnetonka, Minn. Sonion manufactures transducers and electro-mechanical products for hearing instruments. Teese spoke with HR about technology, trends, and other industry topics.

Q. Could you give us a little background on Sonion?
We have had experience in building transducers for more than 30 years. We have been building electro-mechanical components for more than 25 years. In April of 2002, we changed our named to SonionMicrotronic, Sonion being the parent company name. This name re-branding was to bring all of our business units under one name. There are four main business units within Sonion: SonionMicrotronic, SonionKirk, SonionMEMS, and SonionTech.

Q. What are some of the latest transducer developments at Sonion that you’re excited about?
For SonionMicrotronic transducers, we have developed a variety of new products, and right now we’re excited about our directional microphones. Our newest being the CC-Mic, which is part of our 6900 series (switchable directional modules). With this product, we have maximized the performance versus size ratio. Sometimes in new product development, we have to fight the laws of physics. Meaning, in order to improve in one area, we have to compromise in another. With our CC-Mic, we made the component smaller, made it easier to assemble, and improved the directional performance. Also, for our digital microphones, we developed an 80 dB dynamic range analog-to-digital converter and placed it inside our 9000 series microphone. We also have a newly-released cylindrical microphone, the 8000 series. This product has a completely new design that minimizes any performance deviations due to effects from manufacturing and environmental changes. This product is ideal for matched pair directional applications.

Q. How about electro-mechanical components?
For SonionMicrotronic electro-mechanical components, we accommodate both the manufacturers and end-user’s needs by developing more integrated and smaller switches. A prime example would be our SW503 product, where we integrate our toggle switch (single-pole, 2 position) and our push button memory selector switch into one component that has a single-pole, two position in one direction and a momentary push button toggle in the other direction. For all of our new, more complex integrated products, we are standardizing on a 2.54mm (0.1”) diameter.

Q. In terms of the hearing industry in general, are there any trends that Sonion is currently keeping an eye on?
Given our wide product breadth, we need to watch all of them. From digital to MEMS technology, and the communication link between components and the audiologist/dispenser—for example Bluetooth technology.

Q. What new technology is out there right now that you’re taking notice of?
Obviously, the market has turned digital. Our efforts have been promoting our 7400 series A/D microphone, which creates the opportunity to remove the unwanted electromagnetic interference. We have proven this by testing the results within a digital hearing instrument.

Q. How is your company using technology for new products?
We have put extensive effort into FEA modeling of our components and how the components interact with the hearing instruments. We are looking at the entire system and engineering components to better perform within advanced hearing instrument designs. As with today’s laser shell technology, we can use SLA technology and produce rapid prototypes, which will allow our customers to get a better understanding of our products and how it will integrate into their hearing instruments.

Q. What are the pros and cons of working in this industry?
The biggest “pro” is knowing that our components are helping others to hear again. You’ll never forget the experience someone has when their hearing has been transformed via hearing instruments. The “con” would be that we are a component supplier to the industry and our growth depends on the industry’s growth. We have a strong desire to help our customers develop better and better hearing care products: To help develop hearing instrument products that reach all niches in the industry.

Q. What do you see for the future of the hearing industry?
Silicon microphones will require the industry to think outside-the-box, or should we say, outside-the-case. Silicon microphones are very robust and have many electro-acoustic performance benefits, but the biggest feature about them is how they should be assembled or used in hearing instruments. Because silicon microphones use MEMS technology, we are creating new ways for how a microphone will be assembled inside the hearing instrument. This opens the door to new ways of thinking, redefining our traditional methods. This new technology will generate new ideas, develop new products, and in the end, benefit the hearing impaired.