Insights from industry

Advancing the Sensors and Transducers Industry - The Incredible Story of Massa

insights from industryDawn StancavishPresident/CEO & Chief Innovation OfficerMassa Products Corporation

In this interview, AZoSensors speaks to Dawn F. Massa Stancavish about how Massa has revolutionized the field of transducers in many industries - and keeps doing so.

Could you please briefly introduce both Massa and the company’s history?

Massa Products Corporation is a third-generation family business. It was founded in 1945 by my grandfather, Frank Massa. He started the business after several years in the sound industry. After graduating from MIT in the late twenties, he joined Victor Talking Machine, pioneering the application of engineering principles to sound production and technology, creating various sound-related products, such as loudspeakers and microphones.

This approach led to more consistent product results, and he co-authored the first textbook in the field, known as “Applied Acoustics,” specifically for electroacoustics, a field that did not exist before his contributions. During his tenure, he advanced the entire department, and during the Great Depression, his department was the only one unaffected because they focused on sound technology and the creation of new products for the movie industry.

These innovations were instrumental in transitioning from silent films to talking motion pictures. This required the recording and projection of sound in theaters, a task in which he played a significant role. He was eventually promoted to head the government sound division, developing audio products for the military fleet.

His reputation grew, and he later joined Brush Development as head of engineering. My grandfather, recognizing a potential contract with the Navy, independently redesigned the product and sent a prototype, even though his boss was hesitant due to concerns about bureaucracy and contract delays. In his free time and with his resources, he improved the product.

As time went on, the War Production Board began restricting materials for industry, causing problems for Brush Development. However, my grandfather’s friend from the Navy reported success with the prototype. This led to a $10 million contract with the Navy. Over the course of three and a half years, my grandfather served as the industry point of contact for advancing and mass-producing sonar transducers, significantly enhancing the design from World War I to World War II. He developed over 200 different types of sonar transducers, with 150 of them entering mass production, producing thousands.

Following this success, he founded our company in 1945, consulted for five years, purchased land in Hingham in 1950, and we have remained in the same location, fully owned by the family. To add to this, our story is significant in the context of rebuilding the submarine industrial base. Many people believe that America has lost much of its industry and manufacturing, with students primarily pursuing college degrees and jobs moving overseas. However, there is a growing need for technically skilled individuals who may not necessarily require a college degree for a successful career. At places like Massa, we offer various technical roles that demand specialized training, not always a college degree.

Image Credit: DmitrySteshenko/Shutterstock.com

What industries and applications do you specifically specialize in and target?

Our primary expertise lies in the field of acoustics, specifically electroacoustics. Electroacoustics encompasses the entire sound spectrum, from ultrasonics to infrasound. We specialize in transducers and systems. A transducer is the component responsible for converting electricity to sound or vice versa.

When you integrate other electronics and components, it becomes a sensor or part of a system. While we produce various types of sensors, very few companies possess the in-depth knowledge and understanding of the transducer component. We firmly believe that the transducer is a vital aspect of any system. By designing the transducer to meet the specific needs of a mission, it simplifies and enhances the design of the entire system. Our technology finds applications in industries like water management, wastewater treatment, liquid level detection, distance measurement, collision avoidance, sonar technology, underwater operations, sub-bottom profiling, and side-scan capabilities, among others.

In what frequency range do Massa’s products operate, and how does this compare to other products in the industry?

We have discussed the entire frequency range and the full spectrum, emphasizing the importance of understanding that just because someone mentions they require a specific frequency range, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s precisely what they need. For instance, sometimes people speak in the language they believe they need to communicate in, which may not align with their actual requirements. Individuals sometimes look through catalogs and find items in various categories within a certain frequency range. They may then contact the manufacturer or company requesting a product in this frequency range. However, the suitability of such a choice greatly depends on their specific goals. Sometimes, what they assume they need within that frequency range may not be the optimal choice, but they feel it’s necessary because that’s what the market seems to suggest.

Our method is more focused on the customer’s goals. We start by asking, ‘What is your objective?’ and collaborate to identify the most suitable design for their specific application. We do not adhere to the notion of providing products in every possible frequency range just to fit within the market’s existing categories. We believe that frequency should be adaptable based on your specific needs. Additionally, we consider beam angle and sound pressure as variables. Therefore, there are various configurations available to create a more advanced and reliable sensor and instrument. Achieving this requires enhanced communication and collaboration between the industry and the customer.”

Can you introduce some of the new sensors developed by Massa?

Much of what we do for new products is truly unique. We enjoy partnering with various customers, whether it’s on the military or commercial side, to offer the best solution for their specific applications. Currently, we have several items on the commercial side undergoing alpha and beta testing under a non-disclosure agreement. What’s exciting about these programs is that they feature cutting-edge, groundbreaking technologies that will be co-branded with our well-known customers in their respective industries upon launch. This represents a robust partnership.

We also have other products that will be more commercially available, such as the MassaSonic Gizmo, a wireless sensor family in its early stage of launch. It comes in various versions, including cellular, WiFi, and soon, a LoRa version, each with different ranges. As I mentioned earlier, in alignment with our philosophy of making custom modifications to meet customer needs, all our off-the-shelf products can serve as gateway products to potentially fine-tuned sensors or other solutions that customers may require.

Many companies cannot or do not wish to do this. They prefer selling ready-made products off the shelf.  The majority of our business involves developing specialized solutions for people’s unique needs, and we offer an off-the-shelf product line as well.

In terms of markets and new products, we operate in nearly every application, though some are confidential. We work with partners in water and wastewater management and monitoring, and we have products under development for the oceanographic community. We’re also engaged in a grant-funded project in the ropeless fishing arena, though it’s still in its early stages. Our work has ranged from monitoring whales to exploring how our technology can contribute to the preservation of right whales and other species. We’re approaching this problem from a new perspective.

How do these new additions stand out from the competition?

Our off-the-shelf products truly stand out from the competition, particularly in terms of their longevity in the field. They offer a higher level of accuracy and increased reliability. These products are designed to withstand harsh environments for many years. Occasionally, there have been instances where a customer, perhaps skeptically, tests their limits by using the product in environments not rated for it. In such cases, we must emphasize the importance of following the provided rating instructions. However, these are the only types of issues we’ve encountered with our products in specific environments. These experiences have also provided us with valuable insights. When we receive such feedback, we carefully consider whether there are potential market-specific improvements to be made. We evaluate each case individually.

Our products are known for their reliability, high accuracy, and ability to compete effectively with other technologies that are often perceived as superior to ultrasonics in certain environments. Our ultrasonics can hold their own against radar, LiDAR, and other technologies quite effectively.

Could you highlight the technical aspects of these products that make them especially suitable for their applications?

Our expertise in sound engineering, which we approach as a rigorous engineering science, gives us a deep understanding of sound at a fundamental level. Moreover, we have a thorough knowledge of the practical aspects of the entire design-to-production process, with a particular emphasis on the mechanical side. We have successfully merged theoretical and mechanical aspects to create a strong fusion. Furthermore, our facility maintains a high standard of quality control. In essence, our grasp of these diverse aspects, including performance, design, reliability, and the science of sound itself, empowers us to address each unique problem and application category in our design and production processes.

While any engineer can build a single item, not everyone can design a top-quality product that is both affordable and suitable for mass production. Thus, our products embody the total value of the expertise invested in them. Each product we offer boasts high quality and exceptional performance. Our commitment to technical excellence and leadership also allows us to continually advance and tailor our products to specific applications. Rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, we take the time to understand the unique needs of the market and tailor our offerings accordingly.

How has Massa’s approach to innovation factored into the development of these new sensors?

With regard to the innovative and technical aspects, comprehending sound on a scientific level is of utmost importance to us. We are the sole transducer manufacturer with direct ties to the inception of the industry, and this is of great significance to us. There is a seamless connection from the time this industry was established to the present, and we are committed to pushing the field forward. This aligns with our philosophy, spirit, and purpose. In my view, if you are not driving progress in the field, you are giving up prematurely, as you can’t maintain competitiveness without exploring various ways in which your technology can be adapted. This sets us apart from simply being a generic supplier.

Massa’s technical leadership has enabled it to offer high-performance transducers for both fluid and gas applications. Have you noticed any emerging trends in these technologies from your clients or the industry? If so, how do you approaching them?

The market is not always stable with oil and gas, but it’s undeniably intriguing. We have explored various concepts for this market and currently offer products within it. However, I am convinced that there’s a great deal more potential in this field.

As for emerging trends, I see a multitude of them in the energy sector as a whole, not limited to just oil and gas, and our technology has diverse applications across all these areas. I am keen to increase awareness of our products and capabilities across different industries. It’s surprising to see sectors like oil and gas using a range of technologies and sensors. It seems more beneficial for them to form a close collaboration with a manufacturer who can act as a genuine partner in developing more comprehensive solutions.

This collaborative effort could potentially reduce the overall costs for the systems they implement while simultaneously enhancing control and reliability, especially when dealing with various fluids and gases. Simply picking an off-the-shelf sensor and inserting it into such applications is not viable. Those who attempt this approach may achieve unsatisfactory results, primarily due to a lack of understanding regarding how the product performs in specific environments. Collaboration with the manufacturer to ensure the right fit is of paramount importance. We are highly receptive to such collaboration across diverse areas and markets. I believe that industries can’t attain the best solutions when they have specific needs and must resort to using multiple sensors without this type of collaborative partnership. This situation implies that they lack an all-encompassing solution, and the only way to achieve it is by working with individuals who can genuinely comprehend their problems and develop tailored solutions.

Massa holds over 165 fundamental patents and takes pride in its technical expertise. Why is this expertise invaluable to the company’s success?

We currently have slightly over 170 employees, and we are consistently increasing that number. This aligns with our philosophy of continuous advancement in the field while maintaining our position as industry experts. I believe this is crucial for us to progress in technology and sustain our competitive edge, allowing us to offer dependable solutions. As a small family business, it enables us to stand our ground among industry giants, both on the commercial and military fronts. I have noticed that many companies in the field are expanding through mergers and acquisitions. Massa, however, has no interest in pursuing that path, as it doesn’t contribute to the enhancement of our expertise. Instead, we focus on maximizing our already robust foundation and pursuing organic and holistic growth.

Signal noise/error mitigation and optimizing transducer performance are two common challenges faced by ultrasonic technologies. Are there any other major challenges the industry is currently facing?

The mitigation of signal-to-noise errors largely depends on the specific application and while it may seem straightforward, providing a universal solution across different industries is complex. This challenge requires a basic yet deep understanding of the technology. We tackle these issues throughout our product development and in each application of our products. In cases where concerns arise, our approach is to proactively work with our customers, crafting solutions that are specifically optimized for their unique requirements.

About Dawn Stancavish

Dawn is the President/CEO & Chief Innovation Officer, 3rd Generation at Massa Products Corporation, and holds a seat on the Board of Directors. She is in charge of all Innovation, New Product Development, Marketing & Sales, and she is the liaison between the needs of the industrial/consumer/military world and the technical capabilities of Massa.  She is also responsible for preserving and sharing the family values,  traditions, and culture at the company.  Dawn is a published writer and artist.  She holds a master’s degree in psychology from Fairleigh Dickenson University with a focus on Systems Dynamics, has a Certificate in Finance from Harvard Business School, and is a U.S. Patent holder.  Additionally, she serves as member of several committees and boards such as: Co-Chair of the “Industrial Base Coalition Committee” for the National Navy Museum Development Foundation, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) for NOAA, and the Board of Trustees and the Governance Committee for the South Shore Conservatory.  She also works closely in partnership with Northeastern University, South Shore Vocational Technical High School, and other schools in the Boston and South Shore of MA to support the development of COOP students, engineers, and “New-Collar” workers.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Massa Products Corp.

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

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