How Massa Revolutionizes Sonars and Ultrasonic Products

From developing the largest transducer in the world; to lobster-like surf-crawling robots that detect and destroy mines; to designing a new bowling score system; to creating, building, and delivering sonar systems employed by the most powerful Navy on the planet, Massa Products Corporation epitomizes almost 80 years of radical invention and innovation.

Dawn Massa Stancavish shares her vision and experience as a female, third-generation leader of this pioneering sonar and ultrasonic products engineering company.

Stepping into the shoes of a pioneer of invention and engineering is no easy task. Following in the footsteps of her grandfather and father, guiding a 77-year-old revolutionary company in the middle of a global pandemic as a female leader in a male-dominated environment makes the task a little more arduous.

Yet, Dawn Massa Stancavish has come with her extensive knowledge and smart business acumen, as well as her lengthy experience in and love of the family business, to ensure Massa is prepared for another era of growth.

Founded by Frank Massa, a pioneer in the field of electroacoustics, Massa Products Corporation is self-appointed as “the eyes and ears for naval ships and submarines.” Today Massa manufactures and engineers sonar and ultrasonic products for use in water and air, selling to the military, industrial, and commercial markets.

Massa is an engineering and invention company at its heart. But upon further inspection, it is way beyond that, with the capability to discuss, design, and manufacture products for a diverse range of industries, cradle to grave, all concentrated on using an electroacoustical solution.

Massa designs, develops and fabricates new and modified products, hundreds of transducers and systems that are able to function in fluid and gas at various frequencies ranging from 5 Hz to 500 kHz; used in different environments and applications, including anti-collision, measurement, flow, liquid level (C1D1 Hazardous and not), web break, anti-theft, bowling scoring systems, active and passive sonars, amongst others.

“When I was younger, I had a conception that to be in this family business, you had to be an engineer,” said Stancavish. So when she started college, she enrolled in engineering classes. “I can do it, it takes a lot of work, I understand it; but I found that it really isn’t my natural calling.”

She ended with a Master’s degree in Psychology. First, she began her career outside of the family business, eventually brought into Massa at the board level, which provided insight into not only how the company operates its processes and technologies but also how her particular talents aligned with the company.

“I knew that I always wanted do something important, I always wanted to make sure that this company did well, but how I fit into it was discovered later on,” said Stancavish.

Frank Massa, The Father of Modern Electroacoustics, was the founder of Massa Products Corporation. His list of innovations and achievements is long; with his son Don and granddaughter Dawn carrying on the company’s mantra of engineering solution excellence, his legacy is longer.

Frank Massa, The Father of Modern Electroacoustics, was the founder of Massa Products Corporation. His list of innovations and achievements is long; with his son Don and granddaughter Dawn carrying on the company’s mantra of engineering solution excellence, his legacy is longer. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

A Different Perspective

Standing in the shadow of any legacy leader is difficult, following Frank Massa, ‘the Father of Modern Electroacoustics’ and her own technically proficient father, Don, takes the challenge up a notch.

From a young age, Stancavish became aware that while the sophisticated technology plays a major business role, it is still just one fundamental part of the whole equation; the ability to be able to communicate that technology clearly to both technical and non-technical audiences alike is a unique and key skill, too.

My dad and my grandfather were very technical, but they both also understood how to communicate to people that aren’t technical. I was able to pick that up because they always brought me into the conversations, even at a young age. I learned from them how important is to be clear in your communication. So I learned a lot about how things work and how to explain something that’s a little more complicated to somebody who might not have that type of background.

Dawn Massa Stancavish, President/CEO & Chief Innovation Officer, Massa Products Corp.

For Stancavish, clear communication starts in-house: “Everyone who’s employed here is a person to us; it’s not just a job, not just a title, not just a number,” she said. “We care a lot about making sure that everyone is feeling satisfaction from their job, and that they understand how important each job here is.”

As an authenticated small family business, everyone involved does many different things, and each thing that they do is vital to the bigger picture.

While Stancavish is well aware of the company’s legacy leadership, her aim is to bring her skillset to the fore in the way in which she leads: “Communicating internally is something that was important to both my father and my grandfather, but I think I do it a little bit differently, I just have a different nature,” she said. “They were very technical leaders where I’m more of a holistic leader.”

“The other piece that is really important is that I’ve embraced fully the founder’s mentality,” said Stancavish. “Innovation is critical in this business. A lot of businesses that do sonar in the ocean don’t do the ultrasonics for air. And a lot of our competitors that do the ultrasonics in air don’t have the underwater experience, longevity or capability that we have. Embracing all of that and embracing the science of sound itself has been very important. A lot of people focus more on the electronic or the signal processing side; we focus on design and the construction of the transducers.”

Comprehensive is also a good way to describe the way in which Massa helps to engineer solutions for its client’s needs, as it goes beyond the simple task of developing technology for technology’s sake: “We also do the software and signal processing to different degrees and different applications. But understanding not just what the application is and what the desired results are, but to design the actual transducer to be able to achieve those results while minimizing the need for extra expensive or overly complicated electronics and software,” said Stancavish.

“So we have a design system for new products – from transducers through electronics through software – designed to do what the customer really wants.”

Approaching their work this way has allowed Massa to maintain its competitive technological edge while expanding its footprint in industries and applications where electroacoustics is not conventionally applied: “I haven’t run into a lot of other companies that have focused on the electroacoustics and the science of sound to advance the products. And the fact that we design, engineer and manufacturer all in-house, we’re not focused just on the innovation itself, but also how to make it so it’s mass producible.”

Frank’s son, Don Massa, and Don’s daughter, Dawn Massa Stancavish, have carried on and expanded the vision of the innovative founder. Today Massa employees design, develop, and manufacture new, and modified products. Hundreds of transducers and systems that operate in fluid and gas at different frequencies spanning from 5 Hz to 500 kHz have been designed and manufactured by Massa.

Frank’s son, Don Massa, and Don’s daughter, Dawn Massa Stancavish, have carried on and expanded the vision of the innovative founder. Today Massa employees design, develop, and manufacture new, and modified products. Hundreds of transducers and systems that operate in fluid and gas at different frequencies spanning from 5Hz up to several Megahertz have been designed and manufactured by Massa. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

Women in Leadership

Becoming the figurehead of a high-tech family business without formal technical education can be challenging; taking leadership of a technical business as a woman in a male-dominated industry becomes a totally different ask altogether.

I’ve enjoyed over the last few months meeting a lot of other women in leadership. What I’ve found is that for the pioneers, it’s merit-based, everyone has earned their place. I hope that it continues along that path where women are considered, but they’re not given a job just because they’re women. It’s important that every job is considered based on qualifications, capability and merit.

Dawn Massa Stancavish, President/CEO & Chief Innovation Officer, Massa Products Corp.

Stancavish’s path towards success has had its fair share of highs and lows, too: “It’s been interesting going to different shows because I’m received in different ways. I’ve been in groups where I’ve been with male colleagues and sometimes people automatically start speaking to the men instead of to me.”

One interaction in particular stood out for Stancavish: “When I introduced myself as being third-generation leader of this technical business, he said ‘Geez, you must be disappointed, you could have been a dress maker or something like that. I bet you’re really upset.’” While this encounter left her in disbelief, she said it is more the exception than the rule.

“Most of all, I’ve found that (being a female leader) doesn’t stand in the way of something that’s important or worthwhile. There have been situations where I’ve been underestimated, but that’s also worked to my advantage. Most of the time it’s just been normal, and that’s the best. It’s exciting to be the third generation here in a technical field, being the granddaughter that took it over.”

From designing the world’s largest transducer; to lobster-like surf crawling robots to detect and destroy mines; to creating a new bowling score system; to designing, building and delivering sonar systems used by the most powerful navy on the planet, Massa Products Corporation represents nearly eight decades of invention and innovation.

From designing the world’s largest transducer; to lobster-like surf crawling robots to detect and destroy mines; to creating a new bowling score system; to designing, building and delivering sonar systems used by the most powerful navy on the planet, Massa Products Corporation represents nearly eight decades of invention and innovation. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

Technology Development: Cradle to Grave

Frank Massa (1906-1990), MIT Swope Fellow Graduate, first became involved in the sound industry during the early days of the Victrola, working for Victor Talking Machine, RCA Victor, and later on the Brush Development Company. He pioneered new designs and patents during his entire career.

Massa was involved in everything from the development of sound for motion pictures when “talkies” were replacing silent films, to honing the hydrophone. Some of Frank Massa’s early designs even became iconic symbols, including the ribbon microphone used for NBC.

The legacy of Frank Massa’s pioneering spirit survives in his namesake company today, as the company works closely with commercial and government clientele delivering everything from a range of off-the-shelf products to original, custom-engineered solutions.

“(My grandfather) trained all of his people with the idea of design through production,” said Stancavish, with a keen focus on designing, manufacturing, and delivering a solution that is best in quality and also affordable.

“Being that we’re one facility, we have a strong engineering department. We have production engineers that work with the design engineers and a full-blown production line too, with quality control in-house.”

Therefore, it is key that everything from design through to final production is carefully monitored to make sure the kinks are ironed out at the prototype level, with a focus on making it viable for mass production.

Working with clients like the U.S. Navy in such a propriety field, it is understandable that a number of current and future – and in some cases past – technical innovations remain under tight wraps.

With over 165 U.S. patents and counting, Massa is presently working on several projects and the development of new products, both for its own range and in partnership with external client with the aim of delivering co-branded products.

Yet, over the years, some of the product developments have not been so secret, and Stancavish fondly remembers a solution that underscores Massa’s lateral thinking in finding applications for its main competencies beyond the bounds of the markets it typically serves – a bowling score system designed in the late 1970s

“We’ve done everything over our history from innovations for the military to the bowling scoring systems for AMF,” she said, observing that prior to the latter invention, the bowling leagues typically used a pin counter, which was an actual person who would painstakingly count the pins to calculate the score.

Massa was able to deliver an air ultrasonics solution that identifies and determines which pins remain, counts them, and feedback the score automatically, which helped to accelerate the rate of play and the capability to service more leagues in a shorter period.

“It was kind of funny, because I was a little girl when that was happening. I came in and I saw all the engineers bowling, because we made a small half lane and they were testing it,” remembers Stancavish. “And I said ‘I thought you were working Dad. Can I have my birthday party here?’”

The experience obviously left a lasting impression on the company’s future leader: “The bowling scoring thing wasn’t something that we went out and said, ‘let’s use our technology to score bowling.’ They came to us with a problem and we were able to say, ‘Let’s see what we can do to solve that problem,’” said Stancavish.

In retrospect, what she also learned, was how important it is to enjoy your work. “I learned that this is a fun place to work. You can create amazing solutions and new products that make people happy, and you can have fun doing it.”

With a long-established history and exciting present, Stancavish now has her sights focused on the future of her family’s company and the innovative, sophisticated solutions it delivers.

While not at liberty to offer exact details of what is currently being worked on, she said, “What I can say is that we’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with our technology. We’re creating some new designs for use in water, for use in air and in new applications where our technology isn’t currently seen. So over the next 10 to 20 years, it’s my goal to continue to grow the markets where our technology is possible and considered. Because right now there are a few known spaces that everybody is in, but we’ve been learning about some other spaces where Massa can introduce or further expand its solutions.”

Massa Employees “I learned that this is a fun place to work. You can create amazing solutions and new products that make people happy, and you can have fun doing it,” said Dawn Massa Stancavish.

Massa Employees “I learned that this is a fun place to work. You can create amazing solutions and new products that make people happy, and you can have fun doing it,” said Dawn Massa Stancavish. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

Part of future innovation is being able to look to the past; past innovations, some going back as much as 50 years ago, could perhaps be considered innovations ahead of their time. 

“To be able to go back and revisit some of the older things that we started – but that might not have gone all the way through production – we’ve been finding that some of those things are applicable today.”

While she found it almost impossible to choose her favorite Massa innovation of all time, she noted two in particular – both military products – that were featured in TIME magazine.

The first was the development and manufacture of the world’s largest transducer in the 1960s for the Mission Capistrano, Project Artemis. This was exciting because – in spite of missing out on the contract to supply the transducer – Massa invested its time and resources in developing a prototype just in case.

Fortunately for Massa, the winning bidder’s system was not able to deliver according to Stancavish, so the Navy turned to Massa.

That is such an important story for our business, even though it happened a long time ago, because that’s what we still do today. If there is a need to do something well, to do it right, to apply our technology in a way that others might not be able to, we will do it if there’s enough of a need. If we’re sure of what the application is and what the solution is, we’ll do it on our own to prove it and then negotiate.

Dawn Massa Stancavish, President/CEO & Chief Innovation Officer, Massa Products Corp.

Massa’s Robo-Lobster (Invented by Don Massa and Joseph Ayers), the second to feature in TIME and declared one of the “Best Inventions of 2003”, is a 7-lb., 2-ft.-long crustacean-like robot comprised of industrial-strength plastic, entrusted with the task of detecting and destroying mines located in the surf zone.

The prototype simulated real lobster movements to tackle all types of coastal terrain. The plastic antennas are able to sense obstacles; the eight legs propel it in any direction; the two claws and tail keep it stable in turbulent waters.

“It’s the same philosophies as with the Artemis story, and with the lobster story, and with the bowling alley story: we listen and understand the problem, we determine if there’s enough of a business case for us to go for it, and then we can usually find a solution that’s more affordable to our customer.”

Dawn Massa Stancavish standing in front of a display at the Reagan National Library’s “Secrets of WWII” exhibit honoring her grandfather, Frank Massa.

Dawn Massa Stancavish standing in front of a display at the Reagan National Library’s “Secrets of WWII” exhibit honoring her grandfather, Frank Massa. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

Frank Massa, The Father of Modern Electroacoustics, was the founder of Massa Products Corporation. His list of innovations and achievements is long; with his son Don and granddaughter Dawn carrying on the company’s mantra of engineering solution excellence, his legacy is longer.

Frank Massa, The Father of Modern Electroacoustics, was the founder of Massa Products Corporation. His list of innovations and achievements is long; with his son Don and granddaughter Dawn carrying on the company’s mantra of engineering solution excellence, his legacy is longer. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

From designing the world’s largest transducer; to lobster-like surf crawling robots to detect and destroy mines; to creating a new bowling score system; to designing, building and delivering sonar systems used by the most powerful navy on the planet, Massa Products Corporation represents nearly eight decades of invention and innovation.

From designing the world’s largest transducer; to lobster-like surf crawling robots to detect and destroy mines; to creating a new bowling score system; to designing, building and delivering sonar systems used by the most powerful navy on the planet, Massa Products Corporation represents nearly eight decades of invention and innovation. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

Massa Employees “I learned that this is a fun place to work. You can create amazing solutions and new products that make people happy, and you can have fun doing it,” said Dawn Massa Stancavish.

Massa Employees “I learned that this is a fun place to work. You can create amazing solutions and new products that make people happy, and you can have fun doing it,” said Dawn Massa Stancavish. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

Massa Employees “I learned that this is a fun place to work. You can create amazing solutions and new products that make people happy, and you can have fun doing it,” said Dawn Massa Stancavish.

Massa Employees “I learned that this is a fun place to work. You can create amazing solutions and new products that make people happy, and you can have fun doing it,” said Dawn Massa Stancavish. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

How Massa Revolutionizes Sonars and Ultrasonic Products

Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

Frank Massa with his

Frank Massa with his 'transducer cake.' Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

The first time Massa was featured in TIME magazine was for the design and manufacture of the world’s largest transducer in the 1960s for the Mission Capistrano, Project Artemis.

The first time Massa was featured in TIME magazine was for the design and manufacture of the world’s largest transducer in the 1960s for the Mission Capistrano, Project Artemis. Image Credit: Massa Products Corp.

Watch the Full MTR TV Interview with Dawn Massa Stancavish Here:

Sound Results

Video Credit: Massa Products Corp.

 

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Massa Products Corp. This article was originally written by Greg Trauthwein.

For more information on this source, please visit Massa Products Corp.

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