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MASSA – How a Small Family Company Continues to Lead the Field of Electroacoustics and Sonar Design & Construction for 75 Years! (Sponsored)

Present Day

Today MASSA is known as an industry leader in Sonar Transducers and Electroacoustic Systems. They are responsible for the design and construction of many of the sonar transducers used by the U.S. Navy, including over 60% of those used today onboard the Virginia Class Submarines. Although the company was founded in 1945 and is now celebrating its 75th year, its story predates its inception and its story is hardly over!

The American Dream, the story of how the ideas of an individual influenced the history, design, and construction of Sonar Transducers.

Before 1940 the design and construction of Sonar Transducers was inadequate in protecting U.S. ships against being sunk by enemy German submarines. Between 1940 and 1945 the fervent need arose to advance American Sonar and protect our country against the Nazis. Little did he know it, a young engineer, Frank Massa, was just the man for the job.

After graduating Swope Fellow from MIT and receiving his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, Frank Massa went to work at Victor Talking Machine in 1928 (which later became RCA-Victor, and then RCA). During this time there was a collaboration amongst many of the greatest American scientists and engineers, a great melding of the minds. Engineers from RCA-Victor, GE, Westinghouse, and even Bell Labs all worked together on amazing technological advances that we take for granted today. Many of these advances were made possible by applying the electrical engineering principals to the advancement of the sound industry. In so doing the field of Electroacoustics was born, and the first engineering text was published in 1934 called Applied Acoustics by F. Massa & H. Olson.


Frank Massa at RCA with a Folded Horn. (Courtesy of MASSA)


Frank Massa at RCA with a Loud Speaker. (Courtesy of MASSA)


All of this work was conducted amazingly just before and during the great depression. In 1929 although many jobs were cut, the Acoustic Engineers were considered essential. Their advancements revolutionized the recording industry with the development and production of the ribbon microphones, loudspeakers, horns, and amplifiers required for both the music industry, and for converting the silent movies into talking pictures. In fact, it was the “talkies” that were a surprising cash-cow. The American population had an overwhelming human need to escape their daily troubles and cast their worries aside, if only for a few hours, by going to see and hear those sensational new films in the theaters.



Because of all Frank had done with the advancement of electroacoustics he was assigned by RCA Victor to be the Director of Government Sound. He developed and put into production new lightweight sound-powered telephones that did not rely on batteries, and rugged blast-proof loudspeakers that enhanced and facilitated better communications onboard battleships. (Just to name a few).

After revolutionizing the recording industry and having an increased understanding of what it was like to create products for the Navy throughout the 30’s, Frank left RCA for a position as the head of Acoustic Research at Brush Development in Cleveland, Ohio. Frank was well known in his field by this time. A friend and former associate from his RCA-Victor days was called to duty as a Commanding Officer of the Navy at this time. This friend was charged by the Naval Gun Factory (which later became the now disestablished Naval Ordinance Lab) to protect individual slow-moving ships out of convoy from enemy torpedo attack. To do this, the idea was to tow a streamer with TNT at various fixed placements along the line. Each explosive charge required a way to detect the incoming torpedoes, therefore, an “underwater microphone” was requested (because the term “hydrophone” was not yet created) to pick-up the noise of incoming torpedoes. As the threatening torpedo approached the ship, the hydrophone would be used to detect it and signal the fire of the explosive closest in range to destroy the torpedo before it ever had a chance to reach the ship. However, the hydrophones they were using were not working at all. It was only natural that this friend reached out to Frank Massa for his expertise. During the phone call, Frank asked that his friend send him the device that was causing trouble. When he received the unit, Frank noticed the microphone was encased in air. This completely soundproofed the microphone! Frank immediately understood what redesign was required to make it functional. So, he went to discuss this potential business opportunity with his boss at Brush Development.

Brush Development at the time was making most of their money on sales of phonograph pick-ups and car radios that heavily relied upon the use of vacuum tubes. The business was very lucrative, so when Frank Massa told his boss about the potential job for the Navy, it was not something that Brush was interested in pursuing. Frank felt sorry for his friend because he said he would help, so on his own, he redesigned the microphone to become a fully functional hydrophone, and sent a prototype back to his friend for a field test. Soon after, the WWII effort was growing, and the U.S. Government stopped the manufacture of vacuum tubes for non-military use. This change in fortune hit Brush Development hard, and just as they were figuring out how to close-up shop, Frank Massa got a phone call from his friend. The hydrophone sample worked perfectly, and the Navy wanted to buy many more. Frank Massa negotiated a multi-million-dollar contract over the phone, which led to Brush Development’s role in Sonar Development and Production throughout WWII.

During this time at Brush Development Company, they also advanced the field of electroacoustic transducer material knowledge. It was here that transducers began to move away for Rochelle Salt and utilize ADP crystals instead. This advancement led to superior quality, greater reliability, and higher accuracy in Sonar Transducers. Between 1940 and 1945, tens-of-thousands of newly developed Sonar Transducers were put into production. It was also here, at this time, where the 1st stable underwater sound pressure measurement standard was created, accepted by the Navy, and implemented.



LEFT: “Frank Massa (left) discusses fabrication techniques of the TR-208A/SQS-23 Transducer with a production specialist [Gil Barrow] at the Massa plant. When Massa designed this unit in the early 1960’s, it was considered a radical departure from then existing art. It has become a mandatory standard for Navy procurement.” (Sea Technology, 1972)  CENTER: Don Massa and Dawn F. Massa Stancavish with Portrait of Frank and Don Massa.  RIGHT: “This subassembly is part of the most reliable hydrophone ever built. Designed by Frank Massa, they have uniformity within 0 .1 dB.” (Sea Technology, February 1972) (Courtesy of MASSA)


In 1945 Frank Massa founded Massa Laboratories, and in 1950 he moved the company to its present location in Hingham, Massachusetts. Today Massa Products Corporation is recognized as a key supplier of the advanced Sonars for the Virginia Class and other Submarines.


A Number of Transducers Manufactured by MASSA are Used on U.S. Virginia Class Submarines. (Courtesy of MASSA)


Some of MASSA’s Sonar Transducers & Systems that you might be aware or familiar with, include (but are not limited to): Sail Array Resonators; TR-338 Sounders; TR-302 Sounders; TR-355 Sounders; Spherical Array TR-317D Resonators; Large Aperture Bow (LAB) Array TR-353 Resonators & DT-574 Hydrophones; High-Frequency CHIN Array Acoustic Sensor Modules & Projector Array; TR-232 Transducers; DT-276A Hydrophone Arrays; and EC-20 Arrays. MASSA also produces the MK-30 Towed Arrays that are used for torpedo testing.

MASSA continues in its work in advancing the field and advancing their understanding of material science in transducer construction. Presently the company is working on several SBIRs to design and build transducers utilizing newly developed textured ceramics.


Back to the future!

No stranger to the challenges present in the intricate design, development, and most importantly the construction of advanced Sonar Transducers & Electroacoustic Systems, MASSA’s nimble team is prepared to excel against the odds. This small family-owned business has been featured in TIME magazine not once but twice and is considered by their customers to be small yet mighty.


(Courtesy of MASSA)


(Courtesy of MASSA)


Their technical expertise in Electroacoustic Transducers and Systems is unsurpassed, and has been methodically passed down to their engineers for generations since the founding of the company in 1945 by Industry Pioneer, Frank Massa. As we enter 2020, MASSA continues to supply reliable products to the military and industry now and plans to do so generations into the future.

MASSA’s tagline states that they’re “Generations Ahead in Sonar & Ultrasonic Technology.” This has proven to be true through the generations of family involvement, and through the generations of electroacoustic mentorship that occurs at MASSA. Each generation adds a piece of themselves to the company, whereby through their love of the company and all it stands for, they add to its advancement.


Don Massa and Dawn F. Massa Stancavish Receiving NEU Massachusetts Family Business of the Year Award. (Courtesy of MASSA)


Today the company is run by a father and daughter team (the son, and granddaughter of Frank Massa). Don Massa is the President & CTO, and Dawn F. Massa Stancavish is the Chief Innovation Officer & COO. Don has grown the business to incorporate more sensor systems, and Dawn has grown the business by finding new applications for electroacoustics to thrive – these new product developments have, and continue to, result in amazing new to the world developments and products.

With over 165 U.S. Patients the company continues to add to that number. As a private company, MASSA is able to be nimble. As a technical company, MASSA is able to be creative and quick with their inventions. As both an American Manufacturing Plant, and as an Engineering Firm – MASSA understands new product development from idea to product with a high emphasis on Production Engineering. As a family company, MASSA cherishes its work, its employees, and its history. In addition to the remarkable work Frank Massa played in the dawn and the establishment of an industry – it is his philosophy, humor, and spirit that remains important factors in the longevity and continued success of the business.

At MASSA, it’s understood that there are times when we are at peace and times when we are at war, and how quickly one needs to respond to the latter is evidenced in its own history. MASSA prides itself in being available to act when the time calls, and produce quality products efficiently. They understand the importance of the relationship between production engineering and design engineering, and they do whatever it takes to get the job done. They understand the technical fundamentals of electroacoustics in a way that others cannot. MASSA is not just a supplier to the Navy, but an ideal partner for when it matters most.

Just because something does not exist – does not mean it can’t exist. If Electroacoustics, Sonar, or Ultrasonics can be created to fit an application – the top experts in the field continue to thrive at MASSA. If a more effective quality Sonar Solution is needed to be developed and produced quickly – MASSA remains the logical partner. When it matters most talk with MASSA.

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