Interview with NPE Owner - Ken Prince

Interview with NPE Owner Ken Prince

By Robin Putich


  • Let’s face it most kids don’t dream of being a used electrical equipment dealer, what job did younger Ken dream of doing?

    Depending on how far you want to go back, in junior high, an astronomer, in high school, a Martial Arts instructor/Nautilus Gym owner. I also worked in auto garages, helped my brother working on large diesel engines and I also did some side work with my Dad repairing TV’s and VCR’s. I always liked science and technical stuff as well as get your hands dirty mechanical stuff. My family was all blue collar and outdoorsmen.  When I started college at Kent State I was a business major but shortly thereafter I got into breakers and ended up with a BS in Industrial Technology with a Business Minor. It all worked out in the end.

  • How did you start out in this industry?

    I was looking for work while going to Kent State and I knew the owner of North American Machinery through a martial arts class we both attended. He needed help, I needed work. I immediately saw potential for this industry when many around me didn’t. I’ve always said that success comes from hard work recognizing opportunity. I seized the opportunity and worked my way through college. Even though it meant almost an hour commute each way during the school year, and slowed my degree down, I’ve never regretted it.

  • Did you have to make any sacrifices or did you have any obstacles in starting your own business?

    I’ve always known that this business is about both who and what you know and how you treat people. I spent my first 11 years learning the trade and making business connections on both sides of the equation. When the company I worked for was sold to a division of a big business, I recognized that it was time to go. I started NPE in 1994 and I was fortunate enough to be able to continue the relationships that I had previously established.

    It’s true when they say that being your own boss means you never stop working. It’s also true that when you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I like both the technical aspects of the industry, love the people and am obsessed with the planning, creating and growing end of things. So from my family’s perspective I think it’s a double-edged sword. Lots of time away, but I could always sneak away when needed or be reached at the shop. Lots of family vacations were skipped/missed but I tried to make up for that in other ways. On a personal side, gray hair, sleepless nights and hypertension. Overall, I love it all and wouldn’t change a thing.

  • What parts of your job do you find the most challenging?

    Constant planning and shifting of priorities. I learned a long time ago that you need a short, intermediate and a long-term plan. It will never be written in stone because life will always come into play, but as long as the overall focus is kept on the long-term goal, you’ll get there. The daily grind is also a constant battle of shifting priorities based on things that pop up last minute. We still have to meet our obligations and commitments to orders we’ve already taken, but we’ve also gotten very good at juggling three things with one hand and last-minute orders.  There is truth to one of our motto’s, “the right part, the right price, right now”!

  • What parts of your job do you find the most satisfying?

    Finding round pegs for round holes! Seriously, it’s all about technical sales. You have to know the equipment and how vintage changes affect interchangeability so getting the customer the right part is not just a sales line. In a more general sense. I like to help people solve problems. As I said earlier, this business is all about repeat customers. I try to treat them like family or at least good friends lol. I’ve been dealing with the same people for over 30 years. Some of them I know better than my next-door neighbor and many I’ve never met face to face.

  • Has this industry changed much from when the time you first started to now?

    Technology has made huge changes. I started in 1983. Back then if you couldn’t describe the part accurately enough on the phone we would take Polaroid photos and ship them next day air! Thinking back, it really taught me to have great communication skills. This has never been the kind of business where you could look up a part number in a catalog. Later when fax machines came out, it helped but the internet and good quality digital photo’s really changed things. I no longer have to travel to look at equipment to finalize purchases and customers have answers in seconds rather than hours.

  • Does the economy affect this industry? 

    Traditionally, we are considered a counter recessionary business. That means when the economy is down, people look to maintain and upgrade used equipment rather than buy new.   In general, though, people are always watching the bottom line and it is normally much more cost effective to maintain what is in service rather than to replace it – that’s even if it is still available to replace. With this current boom and the new laws regarding capital expenditures for business, I’m very optimistic.

  • Is there one experience with your company that stands out the most, good or bad?

    In retrospect, no. There have certainly been ups and downs but in general this has been a great ride. I’ve made some great relationships with both customers and suppliers, and have been blessed to be able to work with very talented, caring people. Of course, there have been some bumps in the road but you won’t get anywhere if you dwell on them, I try to stay focused on the long-term objectives.

  • Did/Do you have a mentor in this industry?

    Interesting question, yes, I did and still do today. Dealers tend to be “friendly competitors” meaning we depend on each other for support but also occasionally bump heads. That support can range from technical stuff on equipment, trends in the business or financial issues.  Some of my best memories are of the older dealers that are no longer active or even with us. I can recall some sage advice just before I opened NPE in 1983 and I pass it along whenever someone is thinking about leaving the comfort of a regular paycheck to jump into the world of owning your own business. That same advice has also taught me to never look back with regret, only forward. You can’t change the past, but your future is built on it.

  • How does your company differ from your competitors?

    In some ways not at all. We are all buying and selling the same stuff. I try to differentiate NPE with long term relationships, getting things shipped quickly and to keep adding more innovative products that we develop in the aftermarket part sector. We also work very hard to keep our inventory databases up to date so we can spec equipment and ship it as fast as we do.

  • Do you see this industry changing much in next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?

    In 1983 I couldn’t have imagined the changes that I’ve already seen and to plagiarize, a quote that I like to use, “the only thing constant, is change”. However, as long as we have a dependency on electricity to power factories, utilities and large commercial enterprises, there will always be a need for us. As a small business we can react faster and adapt better to changes than the manufacturers.  We will also always be the first call in emergencies. When power is down and the OEM’s have a lead time of weeks or months, ours will always be hours or days. That’s what we are here for.

  • If you could start all over again, would you change your career path in any way?

    Wow, that’s a good one! There are changes that I’d make, but that’s not the way this works. Overall, I’m pleased with the last 30+ years. This business has been good to me, my family and my employees. I‘d also like to think we’ve had a positive impact on the industry although that may not be for me to say. Getting back to what I’ve said earlier…with short, intermediate and long-term goals- the path may not be a straight line but it has always moved forward, so I feel fortunate.

    If you have any other questions about Ken or NPE, contact us today!

    Ken Prince, NPE Owner pictured with Duke, NPE Head of Security





Some quotes make us laugh, some motivate us and some make us think. Here are some of our favorites.


Success is not final, failure is temporary: it is the courage to continue that counts.

-Winston Churchill



Designed for Smart Phones, Used by Smart Folks!

Get the Right Equipment, at the Right Price, Right NOW!



Success comes when hard work recognizes opportunity.



Politicians and diapers should be changed often and for the same reasons.

-Mark Twain


Many people spend more time in planning the wedding than they do planning the marriage.

-Zig Ziglar


People are funny, and were people.

-Anna Smith


All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.

-Daniel Boone


Finding round pegs to fit round holes. That's what we're here for!



It's kind of fun to do the impossible.

-Walt Disney


1-800-647-0815 - Your Electrical "911"



A horse has a bigger head, let it worry.

-Anna Smith





Hindsight is always 20/20.

 -Billy Wilder


 Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls like work.

-Thomas Edison


The right part, the right price, right now!



Used Electrical Equipment Dealers - Who We Are and What We Do

When someone who is unfamiliar with the electrical industry asks me what I do for a living, I generally tell them “I find round pegs to fit round holes”. This oversimplification generally generates more questions but in the end, that’s what a used electrical equipment dealer does. Let’s face it, unless you grew up with a family member in either the electrical power service industry or some other facet of our industry, you certainly didn’t say “when I grow up I want to buy and sell used circuit breakers!”, yet here we are serving the industry, helping to keep the lights and much, much more on.

So, what is a used electrical equipment dealer (UEED), what do we do and why should anyone care?

First, we are a recycler.

   UEED’s invest cold, hard cash on truckloads of used equipment that would otherwise be scrapped or trashed and then we store it for months, years or even longer in the hopes that one day we can sell it or part of it to someone who needs it.

Secondly, we are a vital part of keeping industrial and commercial production running nationwide.

   Most factories, large commercial and government facilities operate on switchgear that is no longer supported by the original manufacturer. While the switchgear is still safe and reliable with regular maintenance, it will require replacement components from time to time. When they can’t be purchased new, service companies rely on the UEED.

Thirdly, we are a vital source of technical information.

   It is not uncommon for switchgear to still be in service 30 or 40 years after the factory stopped supporting it. Some of the oldest switchgear is over 70 years old and still in service! This means that the equipment is older than most of the people servicing it! Your UEED knows and understands that having the right information is vital to finding the right breaker or part for the right application, (round pegs and round holes). Much of this information is learned “hands-on” because it either wasn’t documented or the documentation is difficult to find. Think of your UEED like you would your mechanic, or that nice older guy at the hardware store. He’s there with a wealth of information and he’s there to help.

Last, but certainly not least, we are the electrical first responders in emergencies.

   Power outages are often unplanned and when they are you need a source with the right knowledge and the right equipment to get the power back on – right NOW.

As we like to say at NPE- that’s what we are here for. Contact us or reach out to us on our new mobile site, designed to easily use on your smartphone– We would like to help “find you round pegs for your round holes!”

 Image of an assortment of used electrical equipment and switchgears

All About Allis Chalmers LA Breakers

Allis Chalmers produced a very popular line of circuit breakers with model numbers that all started with “LA”. Like other manufacturers’, this product line was produced with various engineering changes and upgrades over the years. In order to ensure that the breaker you order will fit correctly in your application there are some guidelines that you need to follow.

 “LA” original series:  LA-25, -50, - 75 and -100

The 25, 50, 75 and 100 reflect the interrupting capacity of the breakers of 25,000, 50,000, 75,000 and 100,000 amps. The original “LA” series breaker is common in 600, 1600 and 3000 amp frame sizes4000 amp frames are fairly rare. LA-15 (15A), LA-25 (25A)LA 50 (50A) in 225, 600 and 1600 amp frames. They are offered as both manually and electrically operated breakers. Earlier versions of the electrically operated breakers had a solenoid operated mechanism, later versions had a hydraulic mechanism. There was a small production run of LA-50 (50A) breakers that had 12 backstabs in lieu of 6. Care must be taken while retrofitting LA-50 1600 amp breakers. A number of breakers were produced with 3 individual solenoids on each phase that acted as trip units and were driven by current transformers mounted in the cell and then fed to the breaker through a secondary disconnect. If present, the buss mounted current transformers must either be removed or have the secondary terminals shorted out to prevent a fire caused by the open current transformer secondary.

image of Allis Chalmer LA Breaker

LA-75 (75A) and LA-100 (100A) -  these 3000 and 4000 amp frame sizes are commonly supplied as electrically operated but some manually operated breakers exist as well and a few that have both options. The LA-100 was a short production run breaker that is very hard to find. In the 3000 amp vintage, several vintages of internal parts were produced that require experience to identify for proper interchangeability.

"LA" second series: LA-600, LA-1600, LA-3000 and LA-4000:

The second series of “LA” breakers was produced in 600, 1600, 3000 and 4000 amp frame sizes. Their model numbers start with “LA” like their predecessor, but follow the frame sizes LA-600, LA -1600, LA-3000 and LA-4000. This series was offered as both manually operated and electrically operated and included an option for integral fuses to raise the interrupting capacity to 200,000 amps.This option adds an “F” to the end of the model number as in LA-600F, LA-1600F. The 3000 and 4000 amp versions do not have that option.These breakers feature spring charged mechanisms and a closed door draw out design for safety.

The first series, commonly known in the industry as “blue faced breakers” are identified by both the blue-grey plastic faceplates/mechanism covers and also by the fact that they do not have a letter designation (A, B or C) at the end of the model number.

Improvements to the design revolved mostly around parts upgrades, the most noticeable of which are the mechanism covers with the yellow zinc plating which replace the plastic covers that had a history of breaking and earned the nickname of, “gold faced”. The newer vintage also included a new 800 amp frame size, for example the LA-800A. The fused breaker model numbers moved the “F” from the end of the model number to beginning as in LAF-600A, LAF-800B, etc. The most noticeable change in the “B” line-up are the black plastic, non-asbestos arc chutes.

 Image of Allis Chalmers LAF 600 circuit breaker

Interchangeability between the two product lines is limited to the larger frames for example,  LA-75 through LA-3200A are interchangeable. Although the LA-25 and the LA-50 are not, the factory did make a retro-fill breaker for the 600 and 1600 amp frames. However, they did not provide an indication on the nameplate/model number for these retro-fills. The sales team at NPE has that experienced eye for these issues as well as plenty of others.

All of these changes and upgrades and interchangeability issues can be very confusing when you just want to get a breaker or a part to restore or maintain service and keep productions up and running. That’s what we are here for. The NPE team has decades of experience dealing with these issues and will recommend the right part or breaker, at the right price and most importantly have it ready for you right now! Reconditioned breakers, parts, and an increasing line of new and improved aftermarket parts are here to be the solution to your switchgear saga.

Image of Allis Chalmers LA-1600 circuit breakerImage of Allis Chalmers LAF circuit breakerImage of Allis Chalmers LA-20 circuit breaker

So, contact us and we’ll take care of the rest.


The History of I.T.E. Low Voltage Circuit Breakers

I.T.E. has been an innovator in the area of low voltage power air circuit breakers since the dawn of the industrial use of electricity. The name I.T.E. in itself represents the origin of the modern, resettable circuit breaker. I.T.E. actually stands for Inverse Time Element. This is the heart of every overcurrent trip device. When a fault occurs, it causes the breaker to trip faster as the rise in current increases. In other words, the higher the current, the faster the trip, consequently they work inversely to each other.

The inverse time element was a major stepping stone in the commercial use of electricity. Not only was it a cost-effective alternative to replacing costly fuses, as it was developed it became adjustable for various applications and became an integral part of industrial and commercial safety programs. The element had been used for years by the original Cutter Electrical Manufacturing Company and later the Walker Switchboard Company and had become so synonymous with their products that in 1928 the name was changed to I.T.E. Along the way, as I.T.E. continued to develop, it merged or was acquired by other companies and changed names from I.T.E., to I.T.E. Imperial, then later to BBC for the Brown Boveri Corporation and later when merged with Asea to ABB for Asea Brown Boveri.

The inverse time element as the heart of the series overcurrent trip device is the heart of the first of many lines of air circuit breakers produced by ITE, curiously all of whose model numbers started with the letter “K”.

Slate Back Breakers

The first of these lines, commonly known as the “slate back” breaker, came totally enclosed in a metal frame with a handle on the exterior of the door to safely operate the enclosed air circuit breaker. The breaker line could either be produced with breakers bolted to the line and load side buss or equipped as “draw out elements” that once opened could be safely removed from the cubicles without need for a buss, and major production, shut down. The product line was broken into specific frame sizes equipped with trip devices ranging up to the maximum amperage capability of each design:

  • KA - 225 amp frame
  • KB - 600 amp frame
  • KC - 800, 1200 or 1600 amp frame
  • LX and LG 1600 amp through 8000 amp frames 

Steel Back Breakers

These breakers have been used extensively through the World War II era in both civil production and military applications. After the war, the “slate back” line was replaced with the “steel back” product line. These ITE circuit breakers feature individual insulated pole pieces mounted to a steel frame that is also housed within a steel cabinet and are operated with the individual doors closed for safety. Each breaker contains an individual series overcurrent trip, designated by either OD-1 or OD-2. The OD-1 has adjustable time band settings for both a long delay for moderate overloads or instantaneous for protection of more massive overloads. The OD-2 has time bands for both long-time and short-time bands and has found a use for protection of electric motors and their initial inrush of current on startup. The model numbers of this production line resemble the previous line in many ways.

  • KA - 225 amp frame
  • KB - 600 amp frame
  • KC - 800 and 1600 amp frame
  • KD-A  - 3000 amp frame
  • KE-A - 4000 amp frame

Even though the two production lines have similar model numbers and they have some parts that are interchangeable, the breakers themselves are NOT interchangeable between lines. This requires operators and maintenance personnel to be familiar with these differences when ordering ITE replacement breakers and parts for their switchgear. The personnel at NPE have developed a variety of ways to recognize these vintage changes to help guide customers to identify what they need. Among the questions that you may be asked when looking for these breakers is: What is the serial number? It turns out that the slate back product line has 4 to 5-digit numerical serial numbers and the steel back line all have a letter prefix (A through G) preceding these numbers. Depending on your requirements, internal parts changed even within the letter designations of these steel backs.

K-Line Series Breakers

The next major change in the product lines was the official “K-Line” series of breakers. The primary change from previous versions was the downsizing of the overall frame size to conserve space. A spring charged mechanism provided for faster closing and opening and reduced arcing and the “closed door draw out” design that not only allowed the breaker to be operated with the door closed but also “racked out” (disconnected) from the line and load side buss with the door closed for operator safety. This first generation of K-Line breakers became known as K-Line Black, because of the black plastic used as insulation on the poles and arc chutes.

  • K-225     225 amp max
  • K-600     600 amp 
  • K-1600   1600 amp

Large frame requirements still rely on the older KD-A and KE-A frames for mains and ties.

The product line continued to improve with options. For instance, an option for both fused and series overcurrent protection was offered in the K-DON series, designated as K-DON 600, K-DON 1600. The series fuses provided extra protection from massive faults and increased the ratings of the breakers to 200,000 AIC.

These breakers continued to evolve from the original breakers with black plastic moldings to a more compact version with red moldings. There was some interchangeability between some of these product lines, but it is limited. K-225, K-600 breakers enjoy some interchangeability, the K-1600 has a one-way interchangeability and the addition of K-3000 and K-4000 amp mains and ties replaced the KD-A and KE-A breakers. The K-DON series has some parts interchangeability but are not interchangeable as complete units.

Later improvements emerged with the introduction of the first solid-state overcurrent trip devices which offered more reliable time curves, more flexibility with trip ratings and better overall performance. These changes are designated with either a “S” or “M” suffix on the model number, for example, “K-600 S” for first peak sensing solid state trips or “K-600 M” for the first RMS sensing overcurrent trips.

Although many, if not most of these products have been out of production for years, they remain in service in various applications throughout the country today. While some technical details are limited and the models are easily confused, used equipment dealers like National Power Equipment have the experience and expertise to help guide you through the variations and provide you with quality parts to maintain your equipment and keep production going. In many cases, NPE is the only viable candidate for new parts for these ITE breakers with their ever-growing aftermarket product group. Click on this link to view these parts: ABB/BBC/ITE Aftermarket Parts List

Contact us and let NPE supply you with The Right Part, at the Right Price, Right Now!