Tibbetts Industries Inc, Camden, Mass, has been a supplier of hearing instrument components since 1945. Brett McMillan, director of business development for the company, as well as its vice president of sales and marketing, recently spoke with The Hearing Review on a variety of industry-related topics, including new technology and future trends.

What role does your company play in the hearing health care marketplace?
Tibbetts Industries is a supplier of microphone, receiver, and audiocoil (telecoil) components to many hearing instrument manufacturers, including five of the industry’s leaders. We are committed to engineering solutions that add value for our manufacturing customers but, more importantly, add value to the lives of their customers—hearing instrument wearers.

What are some trends you are currently following, and how are you responding to them?
We’re actively following two related trends: 1) increasing desire for improved telephone performance. One recent survey reported that 80% of hearing instrument consumers desired better telephone performance; 2) increasing use and awareness of wireless technology. New technology is being developed to create wireless links between right and left hearing instruments (binaural communication) and between hearing instruments and external audio inputs/processors (conjunctive DSP devices). These wireless links require coil components that operate on RF (radio frequency). We also see increasing awareness in an older form of “wireless” technology—inductive loop systems (ILS). These assistive listening devices transmit audio directly to the telecoil of a hearing instrument and can profoundly improve the lives of the hearing impaired. Loop systems are commonplace in Europe but rare in the United States. Advocate David G. Myers has started an initiative called “Let’s Loop America” (www.hearingloop.org) to promote the use of loop systems (September 2002 HR) in the US. Mark Ross, professor emeritus of audiology at the University of Connecticut, has even suggested renaming telecoils as “audiocoils” to better express how telecoils can be used not only with telephones but also loop systems. We couldn’t agree more. We think raising awareness of the benefits of audiocoils and loop systems in the US market will help audiologists and dispensers better serve their customers. To promote awareness, we now refer to all of our hearing health coil products (both telecoils and RF coils) as “audiocoils.” And to respond to the expanding and changing needs of the market for audiocoils, Tibbetts Industries has recently founded a 50/50 joint venture company with R. Audemars SA of Switzerland. This joint venture, Global Coils SAGL (www.globalcoils.com), was founded exclusively to serve the hearing health care market. The company was announced publicly at the International Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians in Nuremberg Germany in October. Through Global Coils, we are able to offer the industry increased engineering, R&D, service, and manufacturing resources specifically targeted to improve their audiocoil applications. With sales offices and R&D labs in the US and Switzerland, we can be more actively involved with hearing instrument manufacturers worldwide to develop innovative solutions to meet shifting market needs. Industry response has been extremely positive.

What are some of the products that you are currently excited about?
Tibbetts Industries developed a Far-Field Cancellation (FFC) technology that can be designed into new audiocoil products available from Global Coils. This technology virtually eliminates electro-magnetic interference created by computer monitors, florescent lights, and other electronic devices. It is difficult to appreciate what an improvement FFC technology offers until you hear for yourself. Therefore, we have created an audio demo on our Web site, www.tibbettsindustries.com/technical/ffc. We are also very excited to offer new miniature acoustic receivers (speakers) manufactured by Star Micronics to the Hearing Health market. Tibbetts developed a successful relationship with Star Micronics while consulting on the design of a balanced armature receiver product. Earlier this year, our companies announced an agreement to work together to market these products to the hearing health care industry. This can offer a significant benefit to the end user in terms of improved reliability.

What role does technology play in the development of your products?
At its very core, Tibbetts Industries is a technology company. We serve a variety of high tech industries from hearing instruments, to implanted medical devices, to covert surveillance and communications. Our involvement in several industries often leads to technical innovations that cross over and improve products in our other markets. You can never predict how innovation will occur but you can create an environment in which it occurs on daily basis. That is what we try to do at Tibbetts, so we can continuously meet the needs of the market and improve the lives of the end users of our products.

What are your thoughts on the future of the industry? In particular, how do you think technology will change hearing instruments?
There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in this industry. Hearing instruments are getting smaller and performing better. Technology is changing quickly. But technology isn’t truly accepted until you don’t have to think about it, until it works as a seamless part of your life. Creating smaller hearing instruments that are virtually invisible is interesting. But what is more important is creating instruments that are functionally invisible, that work naturally with minimum adjustment and maximum performance in every situation in daily life.