Made in Eastern Iowa: The toughness of carbide products

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Performance Carbide works in the relatively anonymous shadows, just off Ansborough Avenue, but the work inside is very meticulous and precise.

Performance Carbide, in Waterloo, makes tiny pieces that are inserts for precise machinery and also the blades that cut the lettering for highway signs.

“It’s the John Deere, the Caterpillars of the country that are our customers so being a little bit incognito or not really known about is not a big deal,” said owner Jerry Gass, who has been in the business of parts made of carbide for decades. “The coating on the exterior is where a lot of the advancements have made. Also some super-abrasive cutting tools that look and feel like plastic but they’re much harder and they last a much longer time.”

As he walks the floor of his business, with about a dozen employees, the passion comes out of Jerry’s voice with each syllable. This is his domain, one where he loves the process of making a better product and trying to reach peak efficiency.

“It’s been my life work if you will,” said Gass. “I started this business from scratch and I have a lot of fun with the customers, with the employees. I like to make things with my hands.”

The primary pieces that emerge from Performance Carbide include the tiny carbide inserts that go into the machinery of the most well-known companies of the region. Those inserts, spade drills and drill tips may not be seen too often.

One other set of parts can be very familiar to anyone on a road trip. Look at the highway signs. Those letters on the signs don’t cut themselves and Performance Carbide makes a set of about 20 difference blades that can carve out the lettering for those signs.

“All of the highway signs, (ones that say) ‘90 Miles to Dubuque’ and whatever is cut out on a computer-controlled plotter,” said Gass.

Gass, quick to point out that his wedding ring is tungsten carbide (“It doesn’t scratch!”) talks of his curiosity on designing for why his company keeps finding these ideas for a better product.

“I don’t think too much,” said Gass. “More from an engineering design standpoint. I have a degree in mechanical engineering and I like to see designs and ‘how can we do this better?’ concept.”