Interview with Dr Stephen Coulson
February 1, 2010
CAROLYN SMAKA: Today I’m speaking with Dr. Stephen Coulson, Chief Technical Officer at P2i. Thanks for your time today, Dr. Coulson.
STEPHEN COULSON: Thank you, Carolyn.
SMAKA: Dr. Coulson, let’s start with your background, and your role at P2i.
COULSON: Sure. I'm a chemist by training, and did my Ph.D. in surface science, concentrating on liquid-repellent surfaces. It was a project sponsored by the UK
Ministry of Defense to provide protection to military clothing but we quickly saw the wide commercial potential of this technology. This led to the founding of P2i in 2004.
The name P2i stands for the three core values of the company - to perform, protect, and improve. My role at P2i now is Chief Technical Officer. I am involved with business development activities, assessing the business opportunities that are available for our technology. Then, working closely with our Applied Research team, I make sure we deliver a cost-effective industrial solution to our clients. I also manage the intellectual property portfolio, which covers P2i’s patents and the trademarks.
SMAKA: Thank you. Can you describe P2i’s Aridion™ technology, and explain how it is beneficial to hearing aid users?
COULSON: Certainly. Aridion™ is a patented technology that dramatically improves interview with stephen coulson, ph.d., chief technical officer, p2i, inc.
the reliability of consumer electronic devices, such as hearing aids, by protecting against damage from water, sweat, oil and corrosion.
This technology employs a special process to apply a nanometer-thin polymer layer to the entire surface of the finished hearing aid. This layer lowers the device's surface energy, so that when liquids come into contact with it, they form beads and simply roll off, thus increasing the device’s reliability and decreasing the number of repairs per unit. Aridion™ is unique in that it is used to coat every aspect of a finished product at a nanoscopic level. This gives much more thorough protection than other approaches that only treat individual product components prior to manufacture. Because the coating is only nanometers thick, or a thousand times thinner than a human hair, it is invisible to sight or touch. The result is a truly durable, liquid-repellent coating that does not affect the product's look or feel, but greatly enhances its performance. Aridion™ is also solvent-free and uses only tiny quantities of protective monomer, resulting in minimal waste and no adverse impact on the environment. Aridion™ prevents water, sweat, and cerumen from ingressing into the device and causing malfunction or corrosion. All clinical trials and hearing aid manufacturers’ biocompatibility testing have passed.
SMAKA: Tell me more about the clinical trials.
COULSON: What we've done so far has been concentrated on bio-compatibility, because obviously it's very important that hearing aids with Aridion™ can be worn next to the skin and function correctly, for an extended period of time. We've carried out a number of different bio-compatibility tests and subject tests, where the technology is placed in contact with human skin for a prolonged time period. These have shown Aridion™ to be non-irritating and non-allergenic. Data from manufacturers, with whom we've worked closely, show that hearing aid users enjoy increased reliability with Aridion™ use. Manufacturers are confident that Aridion™ is going to reduce return rates and ongoing repair costs. Reduced returns and repairs will benefit consumers in terms of convenience, and also build confidence and satisfaction with the hearing care professional, the dispenser and the brand. So, the bottom line is that when hearing instruments are more reliable and work for longer periods of time without needing service, everybody wins – the consumer, the dispenser and the manufacturer.
SMAKA: Which brands and models are currently available with Aridion™?
COULSON: We will be making those announcements shortly as we finalize our customer agreements.
SMAKA: Is this technology better suited for a particular hearing aid style, or do you see it applying to all styles; from completely in-the-canal, to behind-the-ear devices?
COULSON: Aridion™ can be applied to all hearing aid styles as our revolutionary technology is used to process fully three-dimensional products. Although today we're talking about hearing aids, our platform technology is currently applied to many other types of products: consumer electronics, engineered textiles, optics, filtration, and bioconsumable products. Aridion™ can take to any material and can be used to coat complex 3D devices, such as mobile phones and mp3 players, and other electronic devices that suffer from water ingress. As you know, the electronic circuits in these devices are susceptible to failure from water and sweat. With Aridion™, we provide a protective layer to the fully-constructed product, and this offers a lot of advantages over approaches that apply repellent properties to just casings or individual components. After all, the consumer is only interested in the performance of the finished product, not of the individual components. And so this is what sets Aridion™ apart, and why it is quickly becoming the must-have technology in the electronic sector.
SMAKA: I’m thinking about clinical applications from the perspective of an audiologist. Could Aridion™ be applied by an audiologist or hearing instrument dispenser, to essentially retrofit devices that were purchased before the manufacturer started making Aridion™ a standard feature?
COULSON: There is the potential for Aridion™ to be applied by the dispensing professional, but our focus at the moment is working with manufacturers. If we find there is a business need, we could explore ways to provide the technology at the interview with stephen coulson, ph.d., chief technical officer, p2i, inc.dispensing stage. It would involve the professional having our patented equipment,receiving training and carrying out the process in-house. This is certainly possible with our single button press operation. In some cases, it may be more convenient for the dispensing professional to process at their location in the long run, for both the professional and consumer. This would mean there was no need to package and ship the device, eliminating actual shipping time and the need for another office visit to deliver the device, etc. So these are the types of issues we would need to consider.
SMAKA: Will Aridion™ wear off or need to be re-applied within the average life span of a hearing instrument?
COULSON: We’ve been very thorough in our testing, and likewise very thorough testing has been conducted by hearing instrument manufacturers. The results give a good indication of the longevity of treatment with Aridion™. The manufacturers have performed accelerated testing to prove that this technology meets their requirements in this regard. Obviously, laboratory testing can never completely replicate what happens in the field; however it out-performs incumbent technologies.
SMAKA: Would this technology make a hearing aid totally immersible, so if it were dropped it in a pool, for instance, it would be protected?
COULSON: The idea when developing this technology was to make the hearing aid circuitry splash-resistant and to prevent liquids and debris from creeping in. Hearing aids aren't designed be completely liquid-impervious; air does need to get into the devices for the zinc air batteries to work. Aridion™ is designed to deliver the required air-flow properties for maximum performance whilst providing the maximum level of moisture protection to the devices.
SMAKA: You mentioned other applications for this technology besides hearing instruments. What new applications might we expect to hear about in the future? P2i's patented nano-coating technology can be applied to a wide range of materials, including polymers, metals, fabrics, leather, ceramics, glass and paper
COULSON: We have focused our efforts into seven market sectors, loosely split up into consumer and industrial applications. Today we're providing our technology to be applied to footwear manufactured by large companies like Adidas, ECCO, and Hi-Tec. Hi-Tec was our pioneering company with regard to footwear. And as I mentioned, we're working with some optical companies, and in industrial areas such as filtration, bio-consumables, engineered textiles, and engineered glass and ceramics. The possibilities are endless.
SMAKA: Do you plan on attending the American Academy of Audiology Convention in April?
COULSON: Yes, we are very much looking forward to it! P2i will have a booth on the exhibit floor, highlighting our Aridion™ technology.
SMAKA: One last question, where can our readers go to learn more about P2i or Aridion™?
COULSON: They can visit our website at www.p2ilabs.com.
SMAKA: Thank you, Dr. Coulson, for speaking with me today. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Aridion™ from P2i.
COULSON: Many thanks. Have a good day.