BEND, Ore. (AP) — Bend-based RBD Instruments deals in equipment so technical that when someone asks about it, President and CEO Randy Dellwo usually gives a simplified answer.
He tells them it's similar to working with electron microscopes.
For physicists or others who need help operating or aligning their ion guns or rebuilding their duoplasmatrons, RBD Instruments can handle it. Such instruments captured Dellwo's imagination and led him into the field more than 30 years ago.
"It's pretty Buck Rogers (when) you're talking about ion beams," he said, "and in this business these are the things we work with every day."
RBD Instruments recently introduced the first surface analysis system designed and developed by the company. It's expected to hit the market this summer, and the company has started an expansion at its northeast Bend offices for assembly.
"(It's) really our first complete system that we've developed," he said. "But our goal is to develop others."
Essentially, Dellwo said, universities, government researchers and manufacturers use equipment made and repaired by RBD to analyze the top layers of atoms on a surface, such as the aluminum skin of an airliner.
The field, known as surface sciences, only dates back to the 1960s and '70s, according to an article from the National Academy of Sciences, but its applications can be found in aerospace, biomedical, semiconductor, solar and a host of other industries.
Several scientific studies reference research involving RBD Instruments software, and NASA used it for research on space shuttle tiles after the destruction of Columbia in 2003.
"They solved that problem with one of the types of instruments we work on," Dellwo said, "and they did it using our software."
Dellwo and his wife, Rena Bennett-Dellwo, founded RBD 21 years ago in a suburb of Minneapolis. Her initials form the company's name, and she serves as chief operating officer and accounting director. The company initially was called RBD Enterprises.
At first, the company primarily serviced surface analysis instruments made by Physical Electronics Inc., where Randy Dellwo worked for 11 years, he said. The Dellwos moved RBD to Bend after falling in love with the region while on vacation.
"One year it was so cold in Minnesota, the nails (in buildings) were popping out," said Dellwo, recalling a temperature of 40 below.
"That's when we decided to move to Bend."
A location on Southwest 13th Street served as RBD's first home in Bend. In 2004, the Dellwos bought the building at 2437 N.E. Twin Knolls Drive that houses the company.
The Bend outlet of Airgas Nor Pac recently moved out of a portion of the building, opening up about 4,000 square feet for RBD's assembly area and increasing the company's overall square footage by more than 50 percent.
"As we're developing the new products, we need more space," Dellwo said.
In 2008, the company's name became RBD Instruments to better reflect its transition to developing new products, which takes years and requires capital.
Finding funding to finish new products has been difficult, he said. Dellwo found help through the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, which has lent RBD about $250,000, according to the agency's meeting minutes.
"COIC (has been) very, very helpful in bringing some products to the market," he said.
Companies receiving the loans are expected to add jobs or retain existing positions. RBD Instruments has 12 employees, Dellwo said. It hired a few workers last year, and hopes to hire more.
Finding employees with the right knowledge or experience can be challenging, however. The work does not require an advanced degree, Dellwo said, but employees need basic electronics skills.
He supports Bend City Councilor Jim Clinton's idea of creating an applied research center, which would provide training, business guidance and other help to small high-tech companies. As a physicist, Clinton also understands RBD Instruments' business.
When introduced to Clinton, Dellwo said, "it was the first time I ever met somebody in Bend that actually knew what we did."