Carson Manufacturing keeps a display shelf in the office full of gearheads, aeronautical components, hard drives, and other products it has designed and built over the decades. (Photo: Faith Evans/Nevada Appeal)
Behind the airport, in Carson City’s industrial corridor, Kenny Penn makes the components that “go into everybody else’s stuff.”
He’s the sales engineer for Carson Manufacturing, a company that designs and builds gearheads. It’s a three-generation family business, starting with his grandparents, Eddie and Barbara Caps, who bought it in 1979.
“So a gearhead, the easiest way to explain it, it’s a transmission for electric motors. It takes high speed and turns it into low-end torque,” Penn said during an in-person interview and tour at the manufacturing facility at 5001 Grumman Drive.
A gearhead functions like the components that slow down cars — just because the engine is working at 2,000 rotations per minute doesn’t mean the tires should be traveling at that speed.
But Carson Manufacturing’s gearheads don’t go into cars. They’re used in robotic arms, medical equipment, conveyor belts, AstroTurf-laying machines, top-secret military equipment and more. It’s rare that Penn’s gearheads find their final home in Carson City.
“It’s just awesome that we’re in this little community, and we’re shipping stuff around the world,” he said.
One of their recent award-winning designs came from a partnership with Attabotics, a company headquartered in Alberta, Canada. It develops vertical storage systems for warehouses, reducing the space needed for goods by up to 85 percent.
Carson Manufacturing produced the gearhead helps store and retrieve products. In turn, Attabotics was featured among TIME’s Best Inventions of 2019 and Fast Company’s most innovative companies. In 2020 they received $82.7 million in funding.
For Penn, it’s exciting to see how Carson Manufacturing has helped other companies grow. Attabotic’s first order years ago was just 50 gearheads, but by 2019, they were asking for 500. Their company jumped from a dozen employees to 230.
“They get the (praise), but we make it work,” Penn said, smiling.
He said that his goal for the company, looking to 2022 and beyond, is to start coming up with another product that Carson Manufacturing can design and produce. They’ve had a solid 25-year run with gearheads, but Penn is eager to find something that compliments his gearheads, or something that branches out in an entirely different direction.
It won’t be the first time Carson Manufacturing has changed with the market. When his grandparents took over the company, they initially made computer hard drives larger than today’s laptops. Over a decade and a half, they worked the size down to an engagement ring (with even more storage capacity).
When flash drives came into fashion during the 1990s, Carson Manufacturing made the jump to gearheads to keep their mills turning.
Though this time around, Penn won’t be expanding out of necessity, but simply for the sake of innovation. After all, he’s the guy who quietly keeps the gears turning.