Transcript: Space4U podcast, Sam Mastovich

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello. I am Carah Barbarick with Space Foundation, and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the people who make space exploration today more accessible to all. Today we are joined by Sam Mastovich. Sam is the general manager of Keystone Compliance.


He has been with the company for over 10 years following a career in commercial banks. Sam was introduced to Keystone Compliance while working as a commercial lender and actually recommended the owners not locate their new company in New Castle, Pennsylvania, despite that less than stellar advice, the owners move forward in New Castle and hired Sam as an employee a couple of years later.


What started as a three-person, one-location EMC test lab is now a 40-person four-location, EMC mechanical wireless package and product safety test lab. Their EMC shielding effectiveness, climatics altitude shock, vibration, and solar radiation capabilities make them a perfect partner for aerospace.


Keystone opened a new lab in the Durham, North Carolina market in 2020 and is looking to continue to expand its geographical footprint. Well, welcome Sam. Thank you very much, Carah, excited to chat with you today and introduce Keystone Compliance to our audience. So I’d like to start with just a little bit about yourself, and kind of what your background is.


What led you to, to Keystone. So can you tell us a little bit about that? Sure. Um, as you mentioned, I had been a commercial banker and, and in that industry for about 15 years and in 2009 during the, the financial crisis lending money was easy. Uh, getting it back was a little difficult and it, uh, it reached the point where I thought, you know, I, I think I’m, I’m ready for a career change.


And, uh, as you mentioned, I had been the lender of, uh, for Keystone Compliance. I, I got to know the, yeah. Really well. And they were looking to grow their business and, and, uh, you know, I started doing some, some side work and, uh, the side work continued to increase and, and, uh, you know, the, the engineering world has always been a draw to me and especially space.


My, my mother grew up in Western Ohio and, and, uh, just outside of Dayton. And so it was easy getting to see Wright Patterson Air Force Base and, and touring the museum. Um, my grandfather was always glued to the TV with, uh, any, any of the space launches. So it was something that has always been of high interest to me, and, you know, the opportunity with Keystone to continue to grow with the organization.


Um, it’s just been a, it’s been a perfect fit and, uh, I’m very excited about, you know, what we’ve been able to accomplish, but also what we have coming up in the future as well. Well, it’s pretty exciting to have such a lovely opportunity open up, right when you… You’re ready to start a new chapter. I was very fortunate.


Yeah. It, um, the, uh, the stars aligned for sure. And it’s been, it’s been, uh, it’s been refreshing because in the banking world, I worked for significantly larger companies and having the opportunity to work with a small business, a small family-owned business. There was no question. The impact that, that you have is, is tangible.


Uh, it’s just refreshing, it’s rewarding, you know, it’s, it’s been, uh, just a great experience. Yeah. And you have had a pretty exciting journey that you started when they were really small to be expanding to multiple locations. Yeah. It’s, it’s been, it’s been a transition from three people to, uh, you know, our, our 39th starts on Monday.


We now have four buildings and, uh, it’s been a, it’s been a learning experience, but the key to it is having a great team and, and we really have a tremendous team of employees. Yeah, that makes it where it’s, it’s not work. Um, we, we all team up together and, and, um, we get the job done, but we also do it in an enjoyable fashion and, and take good care of our customers.


And that’s really been the key to our success. That’s wonderful. I love it. Well, I do have to admit, I might be a little naive about exactly what you do. So, you know, in my intro, I said, you guys are at EMC test lab. What does EMC stand for? Sure. Good question. EMC stands for electromagnetic compatibility.


That definition probably doesn’t help explain it any more than what you know, than what it says. Uh, so to, to drill down a little bit, basically most electronic devices emit some form of electromagnetic energy. This energy can either be through the air, which is called radiated, or it can be through a cable.


Um, and that’s called conducted most of the time that energy is in consequences. However, when it’s not, that’s what it’s actually called EMI, which is electromagnetic interference and a good example of EMI in everyday life. As if, um, you remember back to analog TVs, uh, when you had the TV on and he ran the vacuum cleaner, the status that would show up on the TV that is electromagnetic interference.


Basically what EMC testing is, is determining the compatibility of a device. Is it emitting things that it should not? Uh, when I say things electronic signals, uh, radio frequencies, it, it emitting something that might impact another device or is it susceptible to being interrupted by a device that’s emitting signals.


So that’s really the, um, the basic premise behind what EMC. Oh, it sounds like your vacuum example that, you know, that’s just annoying, but when you’re talking more expensive or more extensive equipment, that interference could be fairly detrimental, I would think. Yeah, it can. Uh, and, and really the, the definition of what’s acceptable is it varies from product to product.


You could have a, a children’s toy that. When someone queues a walkie talkie near it, there might be a blip on the screen. Well, that it might be annoying, but it doesn’t really impact the operation of the toy. You do not want that to happen on a, on a medical device or a, a piece of, uh, mission critical equipment so that the definition of what’s acceptable and not acceptable really comes down to what is the application of that, of that device?


Definitely. So then you test anywhere from toys to the space mission-critical devices. Yeah, absolutely. Everything that has electronics, uh, has to be tested. So it could be toys. It could be consumer electronics, aerospace, parts, anything that, uh, that has electronics in it. Um, we are going to stay in our lives.


Wow. I’d never even think about that when I’m sitting there at the store, looking at some of those things, thinking that the process of getting it to. You’re right. It’s funny because I, that’s why I say that what we do is what every consumer takes for granted. Uh, you know, we go to Target or Walmart or get on Amazon, we order something, bring it home, plug it in and it doesn’t kill us.


So, you know, that’s, that’s basically what we as consumers just take for granted that there’s a lot of, um, a lot of science and a lot of testing that goes behind the product before it gets in our hands. Most definitely. So then you do more tests than just that EMC test.


So can you describe a little about the other tests you guys perform? Sure, absolutely. We, uh, we also do what’s called mechanical testing, which another, another term for that is environmental testing. And that basically is simulating anything that can happen to a product while it is either an operation or in transit.


So any, anything that could physically happen such as altitude, temperature, humidity, vibration, uh, solar radiation, and then a wind rain, ice, fungus, anything that can physically happen to that product. We were, we were able to simulate that in our lab to then verify how the product does under those conditions.


Wow. I mean, that sounds like it would take some fairly massive facilities and equipment. What are those like? Yeah, it can, uh, so some of the temperature chambers are, are, uh, you know, as, as large as, um, garage stalls, uh, and they can be as small as, uh, just a refrigerator. Shakers can be big. They, they basically provide the vibration testing and then the, uh, the rest of the equipment, uh, really, it varies in size, you know, from, from.


Tabletop units to, um, you know, units that would, uh, that would, that would be maybe a fit into, uh, uh, a pretty, pretty sizable closet. Um, so it’s our lab, you know, right now, I think we’re, we’re up to about 50,000 square feet of, of, uh, of usable lab space across our, our buildings. And we’re one, one constant, no matter how much space we add, we’re always out of space.


So, um, which is a good problem to have, but, um, yeah, the, uh, the equipment definitely, um, is, uh, can be sizable and, and can also, uh, the, the, the cost of, uh, of acquiring and, and, and operating can be sizeable. So then what kind of employees actually do the testing? I mean, are you looking at scientists? Are you looking at engineers?


I mean, so we’re, we’re looking at, uh, primarily engineers on the, on the EMC side, we’re looking at electrical engineers, uh, and, and technicians. It’s a, it’s a unique opportunity to apply electrical theory, but also work with your hands because you’re working directly with the customer’s device, uh, and our test equipment each day.


So it’s a, it’s a, it’s a nice mix of both. And then on the environmental side, we’re looking primarily for mechanical engineers. Uh, and, and again, it’s, uh, it’s a mixture of, of theory and enhances. Uh, and, and the hands-on on the mechanical side is, you know, can be, can be, uh, challenging because there are, there are certain tests that require a, a real unique setup.


Uh, we, we tested a, uh, an airplane seat just a couple months ago. And basically our customer wanted us to replicate 25,000 cycles of every movement that this seat could experience. So armrest up and down, uh, the, the headrest part up and down the recline and, and, and returning the seat back to the upright position.


So being able to engineer the equipment, uh, that will allow us to perform that testing is, uh, uh, can be challenging, but it’s something that our, our team really does a great job. That’s fascinating. Again, that’s not something you think about an engineer being able to do design test equipment. I love it.


So then of course, we’re the Space Foundation. So tell me how do all of your tests connect to the space or aerospace industry? Yeah. So actually space travel has, has driven a lot of that. The testing requirements. Um, when you look at extreme conditions, there is really nothing more extreme than, than what is experienced in space.


You know, during, during a launch, you have a tremendous amount of vibration. You have, um, shock pulses, especially when there’s a separation from, from one stage to another. You also have some dramatic temperature changes, too. And then once in space, you’ve got the, the temperature extremes. You have, uh, solar radiation, you have free stock challenges there.


Uh, a lot of just unique environmental conditions that a product in space must be able to adapt to without impacting the operations. And just like, uh, we see all the time, what is learned in the space program is then disseminated to the commercial market. And we see that in the testing world as well.


Where can the standards that were written for space travel are then helped to write standards for the, uh, the commercial. Industry. So I know you can’t tell us about individual clients, but is it, is there something you can tell us about some of the testing programs that you you put together for these companies?


Yeah. Um, so we, we actually, uh, just did a, uh, completed a test program for a, um, a company that, uh, had components. On a satellite and it was a, a, the test program was a combination of, uh, EMC testing. So we had to do a, a full suite of the, the EMC test. And then we also did a, uh, a suite of, um, the environmental testing.


So it was a, a test program with, uh, some vibration testing, some, some shock tests. Uh, and then temperature, uh, what’s called thermal shock, which is basically going from one extreme temperature to another extreme temperature. In the matter of, in our case, it was four seconds. We were going between. I believe it was negative ATC and positive one 40 C for this particular test program.


Uh, and that transition, the, the duration of the testing was eight hours and it was, uh, a constant transition from one to the other. And then we also did some temperature, extreme testing as well, where, uh, it was. Uh, a high temp bake and then a low temp bake as well for a period of hours at a time. So, yeah, it’s um, it’s a, uh, it can be an extreme test on the, uh, on the, the customer’s device, those temperature extremes, and, and, uh, and also too, I, I just forgot.


We, we did solar radiation testing on it, the intensity of the heat, the intensity of that, of that, the, uh, the solar radiation, the changes in temperature. That really impacts the gasketing and impacts the, uh, the connections.


You know, we do a fair amount of enclosure testing, where we are making sure that that enclosure is doing the job it needs to do to protect the, uh, the equipment that’s inside. So know that’s, uh, an example of, uh, of a product that, um, you know, didn’t have the full, complete suite that we, we, we necessarily always see, but it was a pretty comprehensive and, and, uh, fortunately it, it did, uh, it did well and, and, um, you know, it’s something that we will be seeing, uh, seeing the launch probably next year from what the customer.


And you said that was one component that was on a satellite. They understand that it will be yes, yes. Yeah. Yeah. That just kind of blows my mind that it’s that’s one component. So then, you know, if you’re building a full satellite, it’s no wonder it takes so long and it’s so complicated to get to space.


Yes. Yeah. It really, every, every, um, every component that would go in the system must be tested. And then the entire system is going to undergo tests as well. So you said this one did fairly well. What happens when it doesn’t go? Well, that’s a good question. So on the, on the mechanical side and that’s, that’s something that our team does a, just a phenomenal job with is we, when things don’t go well, and the requirements are not met.


That’s when we work with our customers to identify what’s the cause of the problem. And then how do we get, how do we alleviate that problem? How do we, how do we find a resolution on the EMC side? I, I, I joke that we buy more aluminum foil than all of the restaurants around us because aluminum foil is, is cheap and it’s, it does a great job of shielding so that when we know that there’s a component of a system that is not meeting the requirements.


If we, if we know the system is, is having difficulty, we need to then identify, well, what is the cause of the, of that problem? So we will go through and we will shield different parts of the, of the device with the aluminum foil until we identify, where is that, that interference radiating from or what’s, you know, what is causing the problem and that’s where our group is able to identify this as the source of the problem.


Now, here are some ways to resolve this issue on the mechanical side. You know, a lot of times it’s a, it requires a design change or a changing how, uh, something is, is positioned in the unit or making some changes to the, um, to the, uh, enclosure itself.


But that’s, that’s something that, uh, every, every unit is different. Um, uh, you, you learn, you know, some, some commonalities, some common problems that happen such as having a power supply next to a transmitter or not having a, uh, good gasketing around the around cable. But, um, but yeah, every, every, uh, every unit that, uh, that doesn’t necessarily meet the requirements, there, there’s something unique about it.


And, and we do our best to find it and, and, uh, and resolve it. That sounds like you’re going above and beyond for the customer to really not just say it didn’t work, but delving really deep into the concern. Right. Well, it’s important to us. I mean, that, that’s what helps build a relationship with the customers.


And, you know, I, I think too, it’s, it’s, there’s a little bit of selfishness in it because this is where our team takes pride in finding a solution. So it’s a, it’s a personal challenge. It’s not just a… not always just about helping the customer, even though we’re always helping the customer. There’s also that extra motivation of we’re going to fix this.


This is now a personal challenge, and we’re going to find the solution, no mystery unsolved in your test labs. Right. Perfect. So you, you mentioned there kind of some common mistakes you see manufacturers make. Are there any you see consistently across the board, you know, besides the putting two things too close together.


Yeah. I, you know, one, one probably over overarching mistake that we see is, uh, the manufacturer who does not think about the testing until after the product is developed. That that creates a problem because, uh, if you have something that needs to be moved or a, a, a gasket and the deeds added, or a filter that needs added, it might change the aesthetic of the, of the product.


And it’s, it’s hard to necessarily do that once the product is, is made because a lot of times the, the engineers, the design engineers love what they’ve designed. They hate the idea of having a change. It. Whereas, if this is developed, you know, if this is addressed early on in the development process, it’s going to be cheaper.


It’s a lot easier to move something on paper than it is a, you know, and, and, and production and B it’s a way of really expediting the test process once testing starts. So we encourage our customers to spend some time in the lab with a prototype. Run some, some R&D scans, see how it’s doing. You know, let’s look at the schematics of, of what’s placed where, um, let’s talk about the, the, um, the positioning.


Uh, let’s talk about what, what materials are being used? Uh, another, another mistake that we see is if you have a, a product that let’s say that it needs to meet a mill standard 4 61, which is, uh, a common EMC test standard, and you’re looking to buy a component power supply. By a power supply that is already been tested and compliant to mill standard 4 61 it’s it’s, it doesn’t guarantee that product will meet the requirement, but it certainly gets you a lot further along the way to being compliant.


So if you have, if you have a device that has five components and all five of them are mil standard, 4 61-compliant. You still might position them in such a way that there’s there’s an issue or the enclosure might not be sufficient. So it doesn’t guarantee that you will meet the required that that product will meet the requirement.


But it does guarantee that not one of those individual components on the, on their own is going to cause a failure. So that’s something that we, we really encourage, uh, our clients to do when they’re, when they are picking components. It’s important to pick the right component. You know, you might save a little bit on a power supply, but it can end up costing you in the long run and, and, and, um, it’d be a whole heck of a lot more expensive.


Yeah. Give yourself the advantage from the beginning rather than essentially starting behind. Right, right. So you guys are growing, but so, so is the space industry. So as we begin to venture further out into space and have longer duration missions in space, what new tests do you see being developed? And are you already developing things as Keystone to address those.


Yeah, that’s a good question. Um, you know, I think you’re going to see more reliability testing, uh, as you said, we’re seeing longer missions. So I think that… I don’t think it would be surprising to see the requirements to be changed. That like for instance, instead of a temperature test being for X period of time, it’s now double that or triple that I, I think that the, the severity of the tests on the, on the environmental side probably won’t change because you know, the, the temperature ranges, the temperature range, the, the vibration and shock of leaving earth and going into, into space is going to be the same.


But I think the, the durability of, of the components and of the materials over a longer period of time, I think we’re going to see changes in standards to address that. There’s something else that I, that we’ve we’ve definitely seen in, in another area is a focus on EMP tests. Oh, and basically EMPS are electromagnetic pulses, which are, um, they’re, they’re, they’re short bursts of energy that essentially disabled electronic devices. And they’ve historically been more of a, a natural event, like a lightning strike or a solar flare, but they’re now being weaponized and we’ve been, uh, doing a lot of work with testing enclosures to see if they’re, um, they can protect against an EMP attack.


We’ve also done testing on, on entire facilities to see if, uh, the facility is the term that’s used as hardened. If it’s EMP hardened to that, if there would be an attack, the electronic. Inside that facility would be protected.


I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this, this testing start to be engaged more with, with space products as well. Yeah. I mean, that, that makes a lot of sense. I, I’m curious though, you know, if you’re testing a facility, it’s not as if you can pick the facility up and bring it to your lab. How, how does that testing go.


Yeah, it’s uh, it’s interesting. So basically what we do is we position in an antenna on one side on the outside of the facility and we position an antenna on the inside of the facility. Uh, the outside antenna transmits and the inside antenna, uh, receives. And, uh, if the facility is doing what it should be doing, we should be receiving this signal.


On on the they’re receiving antenna. So, uh, when, when we, when we are receiving signals on that receiving antenna, then we know the, the facility has some, some issues that need to be addressed, but that’s, that’s essentially how you conduct testing on a, uh, on a facility to see if it is in fact, providing the protection you need from an EMP attack.


Wow. I’m so impressed and, and thrilled at the same time about all the signs. That goes behind testing. Yeah, it’s it again… It’s what I think we, as consumers just take for granted that, uh, there’s a tremendous amount of, of testing that that happens and it it’s, uh, it saves lives a couple of years ago we tested in, uh, infant respirator and we were able to turn it off and on with a walkie-talkie.


Um, so, you know, back to the drawing board, uh, uh, on, on that one, but, uh, you know, those, those are, those are the examples that we, we want to find that out in our, in our test chamber, not in the hospital. Yes, exactly. Well, that’s kind of all the questions I had for you. If did I miss anything that you want to make sure you share?


You know, again, appreciate the, the opportunity to speak with you and like I said, the space program has led the way with the writing of a lot of these test standards. Our commitment to the industry is, is on that side, but also in working with manufacturers to find ways of developing products that are, that are safe.


Uh, they’re going to be reliable, but also too, how do we help make them cost effective as well? Because every, every little addition to a product is more weight and that’s more money. And, and, uh, so we’re, we’re always trying to help with design to, to keep that that product as lean as possible while still accomplishing all the objectives that it must accomplish.


It sounds to me like you have a brilliant group that is making that possible. They do a great job to a pleasure, to work with them. And, and it’s, it’s really the reason that we’ve been able to, to grow as rapidly and as successfully as we have. That’s perfect. I love hearing that. Thanks again, Sam, for joining us today.


You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course our website, where you can also learn about the various ways to support Space Foundation. On all of these outlets and more it Space Foundation’s mission to be a gateway to education, information and collaboration for space exploration and space-inspired industries that drive the global space ecosystem. At Space Foundation, we will always have space for you. Thanks for listening.

Listen to the Podcast

Space4U Podcast: Sam Mastovich – General Manager, Keystone Compliance