Beck: Hi Norm. How are you doing this morning?
Ryan: Hi Doug. Doing fine, thanks.
Beck: Norm, I was hoping you might discuss power requirements in 2004 as compared to 1994, and how that relates to hearing aids and digital technology?
Ryan: Thats an interesting time period. Of course 1994 was several years before digital hearing aids were commercially available. One of the early expectations of digital aids was reduced power requirements as digital circuits were going to be more efficient; however, as hearing aids became digitized, the manufacturers added a lot more features! The result was - power requirements went up in many cases, rather than down - as originally anticipated! In response to the changing electrical requirements of digital hearing aids, we try to work with the manufacturers and the consumers to meet and exceed their expectations.
Beck: So the power requirements have increased as digital hearing aid products have progressively improved and become more sophisticated?
Ryan: Yes, in many models they have, but not always. Another thing that happened with digital hearing aids is the cut-off voltage, the minimum voltage at which the circuit resets or clips the sound, rose from 0.9 for traditional analog circuits to 1.1. You see, zinc air batteries operate at a fairly low voltage, around 1.3. If the voltage drops below 1.1, which is the critical minimum operating level for many digital aids while processing the very high power demands of loud noises or low frequency sounds, then the hearing aid user will have problems. The tolerances are tighter now than ever before, so the goal is high capacity and high power. Thats what we strive for and I believe weve accomplished the goal.
Beck: I know that zinc-air is just about the only battery on the hearing aid market in 2004, can you tell me the advantages and disadvantages of zinc-air and what happened to the other materials, like silver, mercury and alkaline?
Ryan: Sure, thats a fun topic. Alkaline button batteries just dont work well. They have a good initial voltage, but the voltage quickly drops during discharge. As compared to zinc air, alkaline yields only about 20% of the total capacity of the same sized zinc air battery. Silver oxide is great battery chemistry; it has excellent high power performance, but there are two primary drawbacks. One - its expensive! And two - silver only has about a third of the total capacity of the same size zinc air battery. Silver oxide is especially good for high power hearing aids, but at a significant capacity loss and a premium price. Mercury is another good material for making batteries and was the battery of choice from the late 50s to late 80s, but the toxicity issues are enormous. So again, zinc air batteries have the highest energy density at the lowest price, and they can be made mercury free, so they really are the product of choice.
Beck: One issue we have not previously discussed is the Energizer approach to business and product development. Can you tell me about that please?
Ryan: Well, as you know Doug, as the Director of Technology and Business Development Manager for Miniature Batteries at Energizer, I can tell you a little about how we go about developing new products. One of the things we realized a long time ago, was that to best meet the needs of the consumers and the professionals. We wanted to have a person that could speak battery tech with the engineers, circuit requirements with the manufacturers and address the end-users need for value too. So Ive been filling that role to make sure the information flow from all customers is facilitated accurately and without non-technical interpretation of what is required of the battery. I understand the technical capabilities of the batteries and the customers needs, so weve been able to produce a product that meetsthem .
Beck: So youve got a direct and tight link between product development and customer need?
Ryan: Yes. Thats the goal, and thats been our approach. As the digital revolution occurred and the requirements of the zinc air battery changed, weve been able to significantly improve battery power and capacity to meet the needs of the manufacturers and the consumers by adding increased performance and value from the end users perspective.
Beck: And as I understand it, the battery available today is actually a better value than it was ten years ago. Is that right?
Ryan: In some cases, the value is significantly improved. The price per battery is about the same as it was in 1990, but the hearing aid user is getting nearly twice the battery capacity. In the final analysis, the value the end-user receives has nearly tripled.
Beck: Norm, do you anticipate a new product, or is zinc air about as good as it gets for the foreseeable future?
Ryan: I dont think anything will replace zinc-air for hearing aids in the foreseeable future. Of course, I would never say never, but there is no better battery technology for this application available today or even in development that Im aware of. Zinc-air batteries seems to be about perfect for hearing aids. Lithium and fuel cells are clever technologies and hold promise for other applications, but none of them are as energy efficient as zinc-air at this time.
Beck: So if the product is about as good as it can get, where do you go from here?
Ryan: In addition to improving battery design, another really important part of the business were in is the packaging of the product and improving the means by which we get the batteries from the package into the hearing aid. Most of the major battery companies have addressed this to some degree, but our innovation has been EZ Change. It is the only hearing aid battery dispenser on the market and it allows you to insert the battery into the hearing aid without ever touching the battery. It just makes it much easier for any patient to put the battery in their hearing aid, so thats an important part of our effortmaking it easy for the end-user to use the product! Not only is the EZ Change dispenser easy to use, but the design and instruction changes made this are easier now than they were originally. Its like tying your shoesif you have to describe it, its really tough, but if you just do it, its pretty easy and people are always surprised at how simple, easy and efficient the EZ Change process is.
Beck: Norm, I know were about out of time, just one last question, whats the best place for consumers to store batteries when they buy a case at a time?
Ryan: The best thing is to keep them away from heat and humidity extremes. I never recommend storing them in the fridge. Thats probably not going to damage the battery, but it wont help it last longer either. So, the best place to store them might be in a cabinet or drawer!
Beck: Thanks Norm. Its a pleasure to speak with you again, and I thank you for your time and trouble.
Ryan: Thank you too, Doug.
Beck: Hi Norm. How are you doing this morning?