Intricon part 3: What Does Intricon Make, Anyway?

This short series has described a tiny company that stayed small and became profitable by specializing in developing and making tiny things for a tiny group of giant customers.  It did this by becoming a “manufacturing OEM”{{1}}[[1]]Original Equipment Manufacturer, as defined in post 2 in this series.[[1]] to several industries, including hearing/audio industries. At this point, we know who IntriCon is and where it lives, but not much about what makes those tiny things they make special.  Today’s post wraps up Intricon with a brief look at their products and future goals for those products.

IntriCon self-describes as a company dedicated to four Core Technologies, with acquisitions and alliances in lockstep with that dedication:

  1.  
    Core TechnologyAlliances/Acquisitions
    1. Ultra-Low Power Digital Signal Processing (ULP-DSP)Dynamic Hearing (Australia)
    2. Ultra-Low Power Wireless (ULP-Wireless)Dynamic Hearing (Australia)
    3. MicrominiaturizationResistance Technology (IntriCon’s predecessor)
    4. Miniature TransducersTibbetts Industries

The alliance with Dynamic Hearing, an OME in Melborne, Australia, is a good example of the core technology strategy.  Dynamic Hearing’s specialty is engineering and technological expertise in manufacturing ultra-low power digital signal processing (DSP) embedded software for use in DSP platforms for hearing aid and audio markets.

 The alliance took IntriCon from a manufacturer of body-worn, microminiature devices (core technologies #3 and #4) to a manufacturer of ULP-DSP body-worn devices, including wireless technologies — core technologies #1 and #2. Strategically, Dynamic Hearing saw the partnership as an efficient long-term relationship.  IntriCon saw the partnership as “another step forward in our strategy to expand [our] hearing health and professional audio product portfolio,” according to CEO Mark Gorder.  Mr. Gorder may have understated the  importance — the agreement also gave IntriCon a 5-year exclusive licensing option on hearing aid products, so strategically this was potentially a BIG step for IntriCon’s expansion into hearing health.   Dynamic Hearing was recently purchased by yet another OME — Wolfson Microelectronics.  Not sure what that means for IntriCon’s future planning.

 

The Menu

 IntriCon has a well stocked pantry, and can whip up a hearing aid in a flash using its own components, most of which are described in the Products section of their website:

  • Reliant CLEAR™.  IntriCon’s feedback-cancellation circuit, enables “added stable gain and faster reaction time” in hearing devices. 
  • AcousTAP™ Switch (patent pending):  This neat little circuit gets rid of buttons, enabling users to “change programs when the ear is patted.”  Size and cost of hearing devices goes down, but people may look funny walking around whacking themselves in the head. (I’m just sayin’)
  • Scenic and Overtus DSP amplifiers.  These were introduced at AAA’s Audiology NOW! conference.  Overtus–a satisfyingly mystifying name{{2}}[[2]]Who’s in charge of naming at IntriCon?  Overt:  open to view; observable.[[2]]–is a tiny amplifier for ITC open fittings.  Scenic is an “environmentally aware” amplifier that adapts to changing signal/noise milieus to optimize auditory processing.  Both amplifiers have noise-reduction circuity and multichannel WDRC, among other features.  The website describes other amplifiers on the shelf, such as the “Spin” and the “Digitalone.”  (Editor’s note:  I can’t help it, I really love the names IntriCon gives things — doesn’t that one sound like “leave it alone”?  Maybe don’t tap your ear if you’re wearing a Digitalone?)
  • PhysioLink was also announced at AAA’s 2010 Audiology NOW! It’s a proprietary wireless technology– spanning 5 meters–that uses ultra low power. That means PhysioLink streaming devices can be much smaller than Bluetooth streamers.  
  • Concha Lock System (patent pending).  The purpose of the system is to suspend open ITEs with Overtus amplifiers in ear canals.
  • APT™ and Lumen™.  “Complete systems” — what we in the trade have heretofore called “hearing aids.” The “lumen” name deserves its own footnote for obscure naming{{3}}[[3]]The noun LUMEN has 2 senses: 1. a unit of luminous flux equal to the amount of light given out through a solid angle of 1 steradian by a point source of 1 candela intensity radiating uniformly in all directions; 2. a cavity or passage in a tubular organ.   Familiarity information: LUMEN used as a noun is rare.[[3]]. APT, by contrast, seems aptly straightforward and is described as follows in IntriCon’s SEC quarterly report in 2012:  

with the Overtus technology, we have developed our own complete hearing device, the all-new, patent-pending APT™ Open ITC. The APT is powered by the Overtus which includes our Reliant CLEAR adaptive feedback canceller and the AcousTAP acoustic push button. In addition, the APT utilizes the patent pending Concha Lock System technology that allows for the suspension of an open in-the-ear device in the ear canal. These features create stable and effective amplification, occlusion-free comfort and easy integration into existing fitting systems. Our OEM customers now have the option of using Overtus in their own devices, or purchasing our complete APT device. 

  •  The Loon.  A miniature BTE.  It gets its own line in this list because I really love the name and the possibilities: “Mr. X, your hearing is down. It is essential that you purchase and wear two Loons full time from here on out.
  • A “hearing aid positioning system and structure” patent published in April.   {{4}}[[4]]WIPO PUBLISHES PATENT OF INTRICON FOR “HEARING AID POSITIONING SYSTEM AND STRUCTURE” (AMERICAN INVENTORS).. Article from: US Fed News Service, Including US State News | April 19, 2012. [[4]] We’re taking name suggestions on this one.

 

The Goals

 Consistent with its emphasis on miniaturization, IntriCon has managed to keep its goals to the tiny number of three:

  1. Continue developing and manufacturing innovative products in its core technologies.
  2. Really work the “tremendous potential” of the hi HealthInnovations contract.
  3. Be there to reap the rewards of long-term growth in the hearing health industry.

Just because the number of goals is small doesn’t mean the goals aren’t BIG.  Here’s CEO Mark Gorder on goal #3:  

“Overall, we believe the hearing health market holds significant opportunities for the Company. In the United States, Europe and Japan, the 65-year-old-plus age demographic is one of the fastest growing segments of the population, and many of those individuals could, at some point, benefit from a hearing device that uses IntriCon’s proprietary technology.”  

As this series ends (for now), it’s worth harkening back to IntriCon’s catchy slogans. Who knows? They just might end up pointing to the future of hearing healthcare if the company has its way.

There’s small. And then there’s IntriCon.

Every body deserves superior quality.

Innovation drives us. Technology Defines us.

Three markets. One leader.

 



About Holly Hosford-Dunn

Holly Hosford-Dunn, PhD, graduated with a BA and MA in Communication Disorders from New Mexico State, completed a PhD in Hearing Sciences at Stanford, and did post-docs at Max Planck Institute (Germany) and Eaton-Peabody Auditory Physiology Lab (Boston). Post-education, she directed the Stanford University Audiology Clinic; developed multi-office private practices in Arizona; authored/edited numerous text books, chapters, journals, and articles; and taught Marketing, Practice Management, Hearing Science, Auditory Electrophysiology, and Amplification in a variety of academic settings.

1 Comment

  1. I was born the year more babies were ever dellivered in the U.S. (1957) and representing 4.31million live births. So I am very aware of the potential my Baby Boomer colleagues will/could have on hearing care. Intricon might be a smart stock investment buy (buyer beware of any investment, there is no guarantee of gains). But I still hold to the belief that is hard for manufacturers to share the margins built into the technology. Audiologists should be the the preferred care giver of choice but even that turf war is unresolved. As long as that battle continues, the manufacturer has little need to share. Once manufacturers see issue one resolved then their might be a better alignment between pricing, revenue sharing and marketing/communication to patients (i.e., do you really believe the consumer thinks that there is more technology in that hearing aid as they see in their desktop PC or Ipad?).

    Keep up the great work Holly! Wish you got rewarded more for your time, energy, passion for your profession.

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