From Oppenheimer to the Energy Transition

Kepco Inc. of Flushing, New York designs and manufactures power supplies for industries that include offshore wind and solar power. As Mark Kupferberg, a Kepco owner, explains, the company was founded in 1946 by family members with connections to Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project.

Today, Kepco serves military and civilian markets and makes power supplies that do more than supply electric power to an electric load. That’s because this New York State manufacturer specializes, as Kuperberg says, in “breaking bottlenecks” that slow down labor-intensive electronic testing.

As listeners to this episode of New York State Manufacturing Now will learn, Kepco also makes power supplies that regenerate power instead of just dissipating energy as heat, a feat that reduces costs and cooling requirements. With products that make less electronic noise, Kepco also provided the “secret sauce” to a Nobel Prize winner in Physics.


Steve Melito: Hey everybody, Welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Today we’re talking to Mark Kupferberg, an owner of Kepco. Incorporated of Flushing, New York, Kepco has been designing and manufacturing power supplies since 1946, and the company serves critical industries, including ones that are essential for America’s energy transition. Mark Kupferberg, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now.

Mark Kupferberg: Good morning, Steve. How are you?

Steve Melito: I’m doing great. It’s wonderful to have you with us.

Mark Kupferberg: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Steve Melito: You betcha. So, Mark, can you give us a brief history of Kepco and how it’s evolved over the years?

Mark Kupferberg: Sure, my dad was studying for his PhD in physics at Columbia and he was drafted during World War II and he was sent to basic training and he figured he was just going to be a grunt and in the middle of basic training he was ordered to Albuquerque, new Mexico, and it turned out when he got there where he was really going was Los Alamos. And the first morning he was there he and his cohorts met with Robert Oppenheimer and after explaining the project, Oppie said to them and if you know anybody who can help on passing around a paper, he said to them and if you know anybody who can help on passing around a paper, give me their contact information. And my dad wrote his brother’s names down and not too long thereafter two of his brothers managed to get to Los Alamos and they worked there through the entire project and at the end of the war they decided they had had enough radiation and wanted to go home, and so they had to figure out something to do. And they got this idea of making training aids to teach this emerging field of electronics. And so they had the idea of doing these experiments, that you could clip components together and create a circuit based on a schematic and they realized they needed a power supply to run it and so my dad designed the power supply and he and my uncles built them in my grandparents’ basement. They went off and sold them to colleges, universities. They got orders. They built them, they shipped them. And one of my uncles went back and asked built them? They shipped them. And one of my uncles went back and asked would you like to buy more? And they said, absolutely yes, we really like your stuff. But you know, the next time you don’t need to send the experiments, we just want your power supplies. And so that’s how Kepco became a power supply company, and it’s a good thing that you did.

Steve Melito: Yes, so, mark, for folks that don’t know what is a power supply, how would you describe it in layman’s terms?

Mark Kupferberg: A power supply basically takes the alternating current that comes off the grid that you have plugs in your house for, and it converts a direct current which is like a battery that powers virtually all electronic devices. So what many people are familiar with is there’s a little box that you plug in to charge up your laptop. That little box is a power supply and that’s a very simple one.

Steve Melito: Got it. So there are different types of power supplies, by the sounds of it. Do I have that?

Mark Kupferberg: That’s right, that’s absolutely correct. Those simple ones just give a simple fixed voltage. They’re not designed to last very long. And then there are more complex ones, which are like the ones we make, where it’s very important for that electrical power to be very stable and very clean, like a battery, and you also may need to be able to program it to simulate or to operate other equipment.

Steve Melito: Got it. So what distinguishes Kepco from other power supply manufacturers?

Mark Kupferberg: Well, probably the biggest thing that we do is that we help our customers break bottlenecks in their organizations, specifically for manufacturers, the biggest bottleneck we all face is people, and where those people that are the hardest to get typically are is in testing products, particularly in electronics, in testing products, particularly in electronics and we provide solutions that help people to break those bottlenecks and therefore get more out of their plants and do it in ways that are not just productive but produce higher quality and do it at lower cost.

Steve Melito: And so one of the things that you do too this is my understanding is you assist customers in integrating and optimizing their power supply systems. Can you tell us how you do that?

Mark Kupferberg: Sure, most of our competitors basically are in the business of shipping boxes and it’s kind of like a toaster oven you take it out of the box, you plug it in and away you go, and for simple applications that’s okay. Our customers tend to have more complex needs, and so we’re working with our customers to figure out how to deploy more advanced power supplies to meet their needs and also to integrate them into higher level products that require less work on the part of the customer to be able to use it to increase their capacity.

Steve Melito: Got it. And so, hey, no surprise, there are other power supply manufacturers. So why else would you encourage companies to work with you? What else do you bring to the table?

Mark Kupferberg: Most of our products are made right here in the USA, in Flushing, New York, and we’ve managed, as a result, to reduce our lead times and we are much more flexible than people who are basically outsourcing their design and manufacture all over the world. We also make extraordinarily high quality products and they have great longevity. While they typically have design lives of 25 years, most of them are out there 40 or 50 years later. And probably the biggest differentiator is our support. We actually have live people to talk to in our applications engineers and, as, as required, we make our design engineers and production testers available to our customers.

Steve Melito: Great, and are there some success stories you’d like to talk about? In other words, how have your products enabled your customers to be successful?

Mark Kupferberg: Sure. That’s a great story that I’d love telling. Probably the biggest one is LIGO, who is two laser interferometer gravitational wave observatories. You know why they use an initialism? Because that’s hard to remember and basically they were looking for gravitational waves that would be created according to Einstein theories when two black holes merged. And they looked for these for 25 years using these two observatories that consist of these mile-long vacuumed mirrored tubes. Where they shoot a laser, they split it into two beams, send it down the tubes and it bounces back, and if both come at the same time at both observatories, they know nothing happened. If one of those arms of the observatory flexes and both observatories have the same behavior, they know they found a gravitational wave, and so after 25 years they found nothing and so they went and did an analysis and they realized that their bottleneck was the sensitivity of their measurements, and so they went to see what was obscuring their measurements, and they found that many of the power supplies that they used to run these systems created that noise that obscured their measurements, and part of their analysis also showed them that the Kepco power supplies that they were using didn’t produce that noise. So they came to us and said can you produce a power supply to run the rest of our operation. We said, yes, they came here to Flushing. They checked it out. They didn’t believe our instruments. They used a very fancy spectrum analyzer to check it out and they got the exact same results, and so we built them. They were installed. When they did the first commissioning test, they hear this chirp, which was the indicator that they had found a gravitational wave. So the first time they turned it on with our power supplies, they found what they had been looking for for more than 25 years, and as a result of that, the lead scientists won the 2017 Nobel prize in physics, and so we are extremely proud to be what they refer to as their secret sauce.

Steve Melito: That is a fantastic story. So Kepco works with a lot of applications satellite communications, military, aerospace, medical. Can you talk about some of the ways that you’ve supported work in, say, solar and offshore wind, some of this energy transition type technology?

Mark Kupferberg: Sure, one of our specialties are what are called bipolar power supplies, that in addition to sourcing or delivering energy electrical energy can also absorb that energy, and so that functionality enables the fabrication and testing of solar cells and we’ve been doing that for more than 25 years and it also enables us to simulate all kinds of different activities. But in those other green spaces we do other things. So, for example, in offshore or onshore wind, we use these very specialized, what are called fault-tolerant power supplies that basically provide redundant power and because they can run off both the turbines, the solar cells, the grid or a generator without any automatic switching exterior to the power supply, these can run unattended under many different circumstances and provide the consistency that’s necessary to safely operate those alternate energy systems.

Steve Melito: I see so, Mark, earlier in the podcast, you talked about how Kepco helps your customers break bottlenecks and become more efficient. How has Kepco itself become more nimble?

Mark Kupferberg: Well, we’ve taken a lot of lean techniques which are typically used in high-volume, low-mix environments, and we’ve adapted them for use in a high-mix, low-volume environment. And what that has allowed us to do is, by making things in smaller quantities, we have less queue in the factory and it’s also easier for us, because we’ve become more vertically integrated, to achieve those goals, to customize products for specific applications. So like, for example, we have a customer that makes current sensing devices that are used in electric vehicles and their big bottleneck was testing these and the demand for this stuff, as cars had become more electric not just electric cars, but cars that have more electric motors in them and other electronics in them. They have to know what’s using current, when and how much, and so demand for this has just exploded. And we have a customer in that field and they’re using our bipolars to test those current sensing devices, because they can put energy into the device and they can also pull energy out of the device to simulate its use in its end application and originally we sold them the individual, standalone bipolar power supplies and over time they said to us can you put it in a cabinet? We said yes. They said well, can you wire the AC input. We said yes. Then they said can you wire the DC output? We said yes. Can you add additional power supplies that are fixed outputs and are redundant to run our other systems? We said yes and so now, basically, when they give us an order, what they get is a skid. They take the power system off the skid, they put it into their manufacturing cell, they hook up three wires for the AC in the back, they plug in the DC connector on the front and in five minutes their manufacturing cell is up and running. And the testing that we’re doing is faster and produces more consistent results than their previous systems. And so we ship those systems all over the world and wherever they go, they come out of the box, they plug them in and in minutes they’re producing product. And so that broke their bottleneck. Another example is cell phones, and all of them have capacitors in them and they need to go through safety testing, which means you have to zap them at a high voltage and you have to do it more than once, and typically they would have to wait for that energy to be discharged from the capacitor. And because our power supplies can draw that energy out of the capacitors quickly, we increase the throughput through their test and basically quadruple their output the first day they turned it on. So the new power supplies paid for themselves the first shift and also it allowed the company to basically get a huge market share because nobody else in their industry was doing that.

Steve Melito: It’s a great success story. So you’re helping customers become more competitive. You’re becoming more competitive yourself, more efficient. You’re enabling an energy transition. What are you doing to improve your environmental footprint at Kepco? Have you changed anything? Is there anything you want to call out or cite?

Mark Kupferberg: Sure, We’ve upgraded our lighting. We’ve added solar on the roof. We were one of the first grid-attached systems in New York City so we actually can put some of the energy back onto the grid when we’re not using it. We’ve also incorporated more efficient tools for soldering the printed circuit board assemblies that we built here and you know we drink what we make so that we use those bipolar power supplies to test what we make here. And one of the features of that is that instead of dissipating energy as heat which is common we regenerate the power and put it back on the grid. That has two effects. One, it makes our electric meters spin a little slower, but, more importantly, it takes the load off our air conditioning system and, as a result, we’re not paying to have to cool the air that we just heated. So we prevented the use of additional energy to maintain the interior climate.

Steve Melito: Excellent. So, Mark. Last question, and it’s an important one how can manufacturers get started with Kepco, and what should they expect when they contact you and work with you?

Mark Kupferberg: Well, you go to our webpage and click on the contact tab on the top toolbar and you’ll be given a range of choices. You can click on email and fill out a form, or you can get our phone number and call us up and you will speak to an applications engineer and we’re going to ask you about what your application is and work with you to recommend a solution that’s going to help meet your objectives.

Steve Melito: Excellent. Mark Kupferberg, thanks so much for being part of New York State Manufacturing Now.

Mark Kupferberg: My pleasure, Steve.

Steve Melito: Thanks so much so we’ve been talking to the owner of Kepco Incorporated, Mark Kupferberg. This is a New York State manufacturer that’s been designing and manufacturing power supplies since 1946. That’s a long time ago. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, I hope that Kepco’s history will provide you with some inspiration today, and I also hope that you’ll sign up for an upcoming product development fundamentals workshop with USUB on August 7th 2024. This hands-on, day-long event in New Paltz, new York, will help demystify the entrepreneurial process and provide you with some resources that can help along the way. The way to sign up is by going online to FuzeHub dot com slash product dash development dash fundamentals. And if you didn’t get that URL, don’t worry, just email us at info at On behalf of FuzeHub and New York State Manufacturing Now, this is Steve Melito signing off.

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