TWhen General Products Co. moved part of its steel-door manufacturing operation into a renovated storage facility last year, President H. Smith McKann figured it was a natural opportunity to shave production costs.
"When you move a manufacturing operation, the simplest thing to do is set up things the way you had them," MeKann said. "But that's not the most efficient way to do it."
So he put his engineering-oriented mind to work and concocted a system of conveyer belts that automatically carried the doors from one phase of manufacturing to the next, saving workers the trouble of loading and unloading the doors onto each machine. As a result, the new plant is turning out 1,000 doors a day compared with 600 at the old plant -- and with less manpower.
Now McKann is shifting the manufacture of prefabricated chimneys, another product line, into a new facility, and he's implementing similar improvements in efficiency.
That's Smith McKann in a nutshell, his friends and relatives say. "Even as a child, Smith was very interested in what made things work," recalled Eugenia Foliard of Norfolk, his cousin and close friend. "He was forever inventing, changing and improving whatever appealed to him."
Fellow executives also describe McKann as a "championer of causes," and these days, inflation -- which has a lot to do with efficiency, recession and government -- weighs heavily on his mind.
With inflation running at an annual rate of 13.2 percent and the economy perhaps already in the initial stages of a downturn, McKann and the timing of his latest work-saving measure couldn't be better. He wishes, though, that the federal government would give some thought to efficiency now and then.
Unfortunately, the government isn't competing with anyone, and so it just keeps on spending and borrowing -- and fueling the chief engine of inflation, he said. Excessive inflation causes recessions, he added.
"The growth of government has exceeded the growth in our economy for years, and deficit spending has become an accepted principle of spending," complained McKann, who founded the company that is today the Fredericksburg area's largest manufacturing employer. "We have given the government an entirely free hand to tax, spend and run up the federal deficit without limit."
McKann's ideas about government spending are common among businessmen, but he took the extraordinary step of advocating a solution to the problem in a copyrighted pamphlet entitled "The Cause and Cure for Inflation." He printed 10,000 copies and sent one to every member of Congress.
McKann's proposal is to push for a constitutional amendment that immediately would mandate a balanced federal budget and eventually limit the cost of government to a fixed percentage of the nation's gross national product.
McKann founded General Products in a two-car garage in the Deadman's Curve section of this city in 1945, when he pooled $15,000 in savings with a partner and began manufacturing electric water heaters. Last year, the company did $22 million in sales and this year expects to do $28 million. It has 375 employees.
General Products got out of the water heater business years ago, choosing to concentrate on exterior house and bifold closet doors, which carry the trade name of Benchmark, and on its Air-Jet prefabricated chimneys. The company plans to introduce a line of prefabricated fireplaces next year.
McKann went to the trouble of publishing his pamphlet because he believes there is enormous potential -- as well as need -- for selective federal budget-cutting.