It’s been a goal of mine for a while head out to Western Pennsylvania to visit the international headquarters of MSA. I recently had a chance to make the trip to visit and tour several of its facilities.
My host was Sam D’Uva, MSA’s global manager, product public relations and influencer engagement. D’Uva had a full day planned for me. MSA’s headquarters was, until relatively recently, a manufacturing facility. Manufacturing still exists at the facility, but in 2010 was renovated to include corporate space as well as manufacturing and the company’s customer service department—when you need help with an MSA product, you’re calling the international headquarters. Now of the approximately 4,900 MSA employees, 1,500 of them are at the company’s headquarters in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.
I also visited the company’s R&D facility and the Murrysville, Pennsylvania manufacturing plant for MSA’s G1 SCBA.
I have often said that I like visiting people on their home turf. There’s a personalization to it, and this time was no different. While at MSA, it was clear how seriously the company takes firefighter safety. Firefighters across the country depend on MSA’s products—whether thermal imaging cameras, atmospheric monitors, or SCBA—to work properly during each use and, as D’Uva said, right out of the box.
According to D’Uva, there are “Three D’s” that guide MSA’s product development: Define, Design, and Deliver. The definition process involves observing. D’Uva says that MSA doesn’t only ask what customers need or what product improvements they’d like to see, it also observes customers using the products. So, as one example, D’Uva notes that if they observe an SCBA user struggling to reach the valve on an SCBA cylinder to open it, representatives make a note of it and bring it back to refine the product to address the issue.
When it reaches the design phase, it does it with a global mentality. 3D printing allows the company to develop demos that help expedite getting products out faster. Then, it delivers the final, full package. According to D’Uva, the company’s Altair 4x was the fastest product to be brought to market using the Three D’s. To date, the title for the longest development time goes to the G1 SCBA, however, it represented a $50 million R&D investment—the largest ever for MSA. It also represents the most successful product to have gone through the process, according to D’Uva.
Although it was quite an achievement, D’Uva says the company does not rest after such a success. MSA operates on a principle of constant innovation, and if not, D’Uva says the company doesn’t feel that it is doing its job.
Before leaving the headquarters to go to the R&D facility, I had a chance to sit down with Eleni Lucido, vice president and general manager, United States and Canada, for a quick chat. It was in speaking with her that I got a glimpse into how personal working at MSA is for many employees. Her passion for what MSA does for the fire service is homegrown in that she was a victim of a fire herself when she was younger. She lost everything. But what really brought it home was when I asked her what keeps her up at night, and she said a failure of a piece of MSA equipment because it is so important for a firefighter to go home at the end of his or her shift. The comment struck me, because in my 27 years in the fire service, I’ve never had a failure of a piece of equipment, and that expectation that when I need it it will be there and it will work has always been met. It is honestly not something I’ve ever thought about. It is also why we inspect our equipment constantly to ensure it is ready when we need it.
From corporate HQ, we visited MSA’s R&D center. Here is where I began to learn how the G1 SCBA is more than an SCBA. As a user of fire apparatus and equipment, I have witnessed how technology has impacted these tools. Along the way, apparatus and equipment makers have had to migrate toward being technology companies as well as manufacturers. I asked Lucido how that transition has gone for MSA. She cites the MSA talent pool as critical to that transition but also MSA’s ability to tap its global resources. In addition, she says, MSA will partner with companies to get the appropriate skill set to design and develop a product. She also cites MSA’s ability to attract talent because its “culture is so strong. People want to work at MSA,” she says.
Getting back to how the G1 is a platform vs. only an SCBA. At FDIC International 2019, attendees were introduced to MSA’s LUNAR connected firefighter platform. It provides personal thermal imaging, firefighter ranging, motion alarm, and cloud connectivity. In its beginning stages at FDIC International 2019, this year MSA plans to give firefighters an in-depth look at the system, which will soon be available. It is the G1 “platform” that provides LUNAR with its capabilities. D’Uva says, “It is a platform that is meant to evolve as technology continues to become available. When you think about all of the things we’ve been able to introduce in addition to the G1 whether it’s the ITIC–and now we’re excited to talk about LUNAR which is really the next iteration of our firefighter connected platform–the G1 really allows you to have your hands on the latest technology as soon as it becomes available.” And, watching a G1 harness being assembled from scratch really gave me a chance to see how technology is built into the platform.
I got a personal demonstration of LUNAR, but for a good idea of LUNAR being put to the test, visit Boston (MA) Fire Department Field Tests MSA’s LUNAR Device.
There was a constant between HQ and the Murrysville manufacturing facility and that is MSA’s “orange wall.” According to D’Uva, you will find an orange wall—MSA’s Customer Experience Wall—in any facility in the world. It displays numerous examples of what customers can expect from “the green box” when they work with MSA.