Business Monday

Laser Guardian aims to keep lasers safe

Tony Imm tests a laser at Laser Guardian in Deerfield Beach.
Tony Imm tests a laser at Laser Guardian in Deerfield Beach. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A tiny company in Deerfield Beach, Laser Guardian, works with a wide variety of clients to ensure that lasers used in their businesses are safe and in compliance with complex federal and state scientific norms.

Beyond the familiar laser pointers, many other types of these high-tech devices are used by doctors to seal a retinal tear or remove birthmarks, by military and police to target weapons, by retailers to scan products or by industrial companies for precision metal cutting and welding.

A laser — short for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation — produces an intense, highly directional beam of visible light (which is a type of radiation), as well as concentrated ultraviolet and infrared light, which are not visible to the human eye. If not properly designed, calibrated or operated, lasers may “leak” radiation that can burn skin or cause serious eye damage, even blindness.

“I work with large and small clients in the U.S. and Central America to make sure that lasers are safe for people around them,” said Tony Imm, an engineer and expert in laser safety who founded Laser Guardian in Sunrise a decade ago. One of a handful of independent laser-safety experts in the country, Imm not only set up Laser Guardian, but is its owner and sole employee.

“There are very few people who have my expertise, so I work alone,” said Imm, as he adjusted a commercial laser at his lab in Deerfield Beach.

What does Laser Guardian do?

Lasers are complex devices that must meet a dizzying array of scientific standards developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), as well as regulations in some states, before they can be sold.

“Companies that build, import or integrate a laser into other equipment are required to submit a detailed safety report to the CDRH if those systems are to be distributed for sale in the U.S.,” Imm said. The devices must meet strict standards set by the American National Standards Institute and other organizations, and those standards form part of state and federal regulations governing lasers.

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Imm CHARLES TRAINOR JR. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Imm ensures that lasers conform to all standards and then draws up the highly complex safety report filed with the CDRH. “And Florida has one of the toughest sets of laser safety regulations in the U.S.,” he said.

If suppliers’ lasers do not meet CDRH standards or if suppliers failed to submit a safety report, they can face product recalls and fines up to $300,000: “I may not be the cheapest, but I’ve never had a recall or an end-user complaint.”

Imm also is involved in laser system development: “I work with biomedical companies in developing laser-based production processes or products. As an example, I worked with the R&D department of a company that was developing a laser catheter to remove blockages in the vascular system.”

Laser Guardian works directly for many customers and is contracted to carry out third-party audits by some large companies with in-house laser safety departments.

Before setting up Laser Guardian, Imm was the laser safety officer at Boston Scientific in Doral. The Board of Laser Safety, a certification organization in Orlando, has classified him as a certified laser safety officer. He also is a member of ANSI and other international laser safety organizations. Imm has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and an MBA, from Jacksonville State University in Alabama, and has a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso.

Imm also is the chief scientific officer, as well as an investor and board member, in Waterford Mask Systems in Deerfield Beach.

Waterford produces a protective mask for use by medical personnel as well as workers in construction, industry, transportation and hospitality. Waterford masks contain a biocide that protects medical workers and other wearers from infectious diseases better than existing masks, which were designed more to safeguard patients than wearers, the company says. They are boilable, can be used up to 100 times and can be worn comfortably for many hours. Imm helped develop this patented product.

Company name: Laser Guardian.

Founded: 2008.

Founder, CEO and owner: Tony Imm.

Headquarters: 658 S. Military Trail, Deerfield Beach.

Employees: Imm is the sole employee.

Clients: Clinics, medical offices, pharmaceutical and biomedical firms (Bristol-Myers Squibb), transportation (Union Pacific), aviation and law enforcement.

Financials: Thanks to acquiring new clients, revenue increased by 200 percent between 2015 and 2016, and by 25 percent between 2016 and 2017, Imm said. He does not release dollar income figures.

Competitors: Rockwell Laser and LAI International.

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These glasses are used to protect eyes from a laser beam at Laser Guardian. CHARLES TRAINOR JR. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The difference: “The edge Laser Guardian has over competitors is in the depth of experience we have, especially working with biomedical companies and with the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, ” Imm said.

Client view: Laser Advantage, a New Hampshire-based firm that develops and upgrades laser systems, repairs and maintains lasers and provides services like laser cutting, welding and drilling, hired Laser Guardian in 2014 to certify and register its laser systems. “My company was hired by R.J. Reynolds as part of a team to develop systems to manufacture the VUSE electronic cigarette for them,” said Michael Lynch, Laser Advantage’s president. Lynch’s company provided a laser that was used in the production process and needed Laser Guardian to certify that the laser and the production process were safe in a production environment, and to register the system’s safety certification with the FDA and the CDRH.

“I knew from working with him in the past [at Boston Scientific] that he had the expertise and working knowledge of [government] laser safety laws,” Lynch said. “I knew that he would ensure our equipment would meet safety regulations” and that he was familiar with handling the complex regulations and red tape required to register the laser. “Laser Guidance is top notch and I use him exclusively. There are not many companies like his that can assist in laser safety and certification.” Lynch said he will recommend Laser Guardian to his clients, “who need to know the job will be done right the first time and in compliance with governing norms.”

Business lesson: “LG initially focused on law enforcement and pilot safety,” Imm said. This was originally driven by the increasing incidence of laser-related attacks. Imm participated in conferences for police and commercial pilots, providing training and offering laser-safety equipment, like protective glasses. “But very few sales were generated. We then focused on the compliance for the biomedical sector and the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.”

Challenges: The biggest challenge is finding enough time. “Clients deserve a rapid response so I typically am working throughout the day and at night,” he said. Laser Guardian continues to add new clients, fitting them in between existing part- and full-time jobs, which can last from two weeks to several years.

Growth opportunities: For LG the biomedical sector. For Waterford masks, supporting the federal government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and its efforts to protect individuals from airborne infectious diseases and other airborne threats.

Joseph A. Mann Jr. can be reached at josephmannjr@gmail.com.

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