An innovation from AT&S that can make life easier for millions of people with hearing impairments brought the high-tech company the premiere win in the digitization category of the Styrian Innovation Prize.
Small, flexible printed circuit boards, ideal for installing hearing aids and other medical aids and enabling further miniaturization, were awarded prizes. The Innovatoinspreis Steiermark honors the best projects of Styrian companies and research institutions. In 2022 this honor was awarded for the first time.
In Austria alone, 1.8 million people live with hearing impairments. Only about 400,000 of them wear a hearing aid. One reason for this is the lousy reputation of previous hearing aids, which often only helped to a limited extent in everyday noise and were large, conspicuous, and clumsy at the same time.
Modern miniaturized hearing aids are carriers of numerous microchips. They communicate with smartphones and cars and will soon translate conversations simultaneously. AT&S innovation starts at the interface of these trends – miniaturization versus increasing complexity.
The company has developed a mini circuit board made of unique materials that solve the challenges described at the same time. The system consisting of a flexible circuit board and an attached adapter mini circuit board is compact and gives manufacturers maximum freedom. Further miniaturization for future technical requirements is underway.
The AT&S innovation
The innovative AT&S solution uses a fingernail-sized substrate-like printed circuit board made of temperature-stable epoxy resin composite material that is only 0.25 millimeters thick. This miniaturized circuit board can accommodate several high-performance microchips and allows the smallest connections and structures. Thermally insensitive materials avoid problems caused by heat-related deformation when soldering many contacts. At the same time, the printed circuit board is manufactured as a complete package in connection with a flexible printed circuit board that contains less sensitive structures. This two-board package is extremely compact and allows cost-effective manufacturing of high-end systems.
“Our mini circuit board is currently used primarily in hearing aids,” explains Hannes Voraberger, Director of R&D at AT&S. “The technology allows further miniaturization for future developments in hearing aids, such as speech recognition or simultaneous translations using artificial intelligence. But other medical applications such as cardiac pacemakers, neuro-implants, or insulin pumps can also benefit from the innovation.”
For AT&S CEO Andreas Gerstenmayer, the award once again proves AT&S’s innovative strength: “We are making complex electronics feasible in the smallest of spaces and enabling further miniaturization steps where conventional circuit boards reach their limits,” says Gerstenmayer. “The lower weight and the reduced material consumption also protect the environment and resources and make devices less conspicuous and more comfortable for the wearer.”