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Analyzing Lasers with Redding’s DataRay

02/26/2018 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Ray of Light

March 2018
By Jordan Venema
Photos by Eric Leslie

It’s not unusual for parents and children, spouses and siblings to work together in the family business. That’s why Kevin Garvey moved to Redding, anyway – to work with his mother and father, Joy and Steve Garvey. In a sense, the Garveys are just like any other family that works together, except how many families can say they’re in the laser business?

When people think of lasers – if they’re cool, anyway – they probably imagine elaborate space battles or impenetrable security systems, a la Mission Impossible. So for laser beam profiler Kevin Garvey, his profession probably becomes the hot topic of every cocktail party conversation, until he admits that no, that isn’t exactly what DataRay Inc. does. So are people usually crestfallen to discover Garvey doesn’t work in a mad scientist’s lab full of laser beams? 

“Pretty frequently, yeah,” Kevin says with a chuckle.

Though Kevin neither confirmed nor denied that DataRay Inc. could in fact make a laser gun (probably because he wasn’t asked), he does admit that people often ask just what it is DataRay Inc. does.

“We develop, build, and sell instrumentation that provides analysis of lasers, giving information about the intensity of the distribution of light,” Kevin says.

DataRay Inc. builds a variety of products, boxes that could pass as cool, stripped-down digital cameras, and Joy confirms: “We have cameras and detectors behind slits.” Those cameras receive the laser, Joy continues, “and we have software that analyzes the laser.” In other words, the Garveys build products that profile laser beams, measuring wave lengths and size, and analyzing whether a beam is a
pulse or continuous wave. In short, the Garveys measure the technology that often does the measuring.

Which is why, says Kevin, “you want to make sure that your laser is working and looks the way you would expect it to.”

“We have a customer who manufactures equipment that’s used in Lasik surgery, so they have multiple beams, and in this case they provide the lasers that are used for surgery on somebody’s eyes. So it’s important for their customers that the beams are calibrated properly.”

Whatever they’re used for, the fact is that lasers can be found just about anywhere. Garvey says laser beam profiling is a niche market, “but if you can pick any industry, somewhere in the supply chain, there’s going to be photonics,” which is the science of light, “whether it’s fiber or optics.” 

Garvey’s brother-in-law, Rocco Dragone, agrees. “There are very few things that you can think of that don’t involve lasers at some point,” he says, whether it’s virtual reality or self-driving cars.

“For the average person, though, it’s pretty esoteric,” Kevin says.

How did the Garveys get into the laser beam profiling business?

“I got involved in optics early, back in the early ‘80s,” says Steve, who worked in HP’s research labs. Seeing the need for laser beam profiling in a growing market, he and his wife Joy started DataRay Inc. 30 years ago.

In 2009, Steve and Joy moved the business to Redding from Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and were soon followed by son Kevin and daughter-in-law Natalia, daughter Melinda, and son-in-law Rocco, who all work with the company. The Garveys admit there isn’t exactly a booming laser business in Redding, but they love the city they call home. 

That Redding doesn’t have a particularly bustling laser industry isn’t an issue, though. “We sell all over the world,” says Joy.

While we might entertain a science fiction fantasy about lasers, the truth is they can perform fairly mundane tasks, like scanning your purchases at the grocery store. But even though the Garveys and their company’s equipment is used with lasers of all kinds, they still solve problems that are unique.

“We sold to a couple universities that are doing pretty cutting-edge research, and one thing I found very interesting,” Dragone offers, “is they were using a laser in combination with a needle, basically using a fiber optic cable to do brain surgery.”

On top of working with university and medical clients, DataRay Inc. provides laser solutions for many large corporations all over the world. In a sense, then, a small family business is helping innovative, world-renowned companies navigate into the future. And all from right here in Redding. •

DataRay Inc. •