Safe & Sound
IMMI President Tom Anthony explains how a Westfield company became a global leader in safety
For more than 50 years, Westfield-based IMMI has been an industry leader in the design, testing and manufacturing of advanced safety systems. Located along U.S. 31 just south of East 191st Street, IMMI is the largest manufacturer in Hamilton County. It employs more than 700 people, making it the eighth largest private employer in Indiana.
“We never had an overnight success,” President James Thomas “Tom” Anthony said. “Nobody’s asking for unique, simple, and elegant that over time people can’t do without.”
The story of IMMI actually began in 1915 with Anthony’s grandfather, James “Jim” Lesley Anthony. Jim started Uniform UHL, an automotive parts store supplying pieces for the 30 different manufacturers around Indianapolis.
IMMI started in 1961 at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and St. Clair Street in Indianapolis with four people and two sewing machines. Indiana Mills & Manufacturing – with mills referring to the woven component in products – was in the back portion of Uniform UHL.
“My dad removed the horse stalls in the (former) fire house,” Anthony said. “Cars lined up all around the block to get retrofitted seatbelts. If they wanted to get them early they would come in and help pack them.”
In 1971, IMMI moved to Hamilton County and was located in buildings two-and-a-half blocks apart in what is now the Carmel Arts & Design District.
“There was more product on trucks going between buildings than on floors,” Anthony said.
In 1986, the company expanded its property size four times and moved to Westfield. Fifty two years since it began, IMMI has 1,000 employees and operates six facilities in North America, Asia, and Europe.
IMMI produces hundreds of innovative products for various industrial sectors, including the school bus, commercial vehicle, fire/ambulance, child seating, military, off-road, and motor coach industries.
“We’ve protected tens of millions of lives with their work ethic,” Anthony said. “Our passion is safety. We have two primary domains: protect people making their living behind the wheel and protect children from the first ride home from the hospital until they get their first set of car keys. They are making a life saving device.”
Anthony said its commercial products include boat and cargo buckle tie down systems.
“We’re doing all of the Greyhound seating now as they begin to retrofit and build new buses,” he said. “When we began we were just trying to put seatbelts in vehicles and kids in car seats. It was very simple. As safety began to get more sophisticated we saw the need to jump boards from just the webbing, belt and buckle, seating structures and inflatables.”
Anthony said one area that didn’t exist and has made the most advancement is child passenger safety. In the late 1970s, IMMI designed the five-point buckle system for child restraints and later created the first central adjustment child seat and SafeGuard family of products. As part of President Bill Clinton’s Blue Ribbon Panel, IMMI worked with other industry leaders to create a better anchor and latch process for vehicle child seats.
“We’re protecting over 10 million children every day,” CEO Larry Gray said. “We’re proud we are protecting 700,000 students every day, but yellow school buses transport 24 million students every day. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface.”
IMMI also protects 300,000 firefighters every day. The country’s largest fire department, FDNY, awarded them a special commendation for their work in the advancement of safety for first responders in June 2012.
“IMMI is dedicated to not only bringing safety to our first responders here in our own backyard, but also around the world,” Gray said.
Former WFD Fire Chief Todd Burtron, who now works as Mayor Andy Cook’s chief of staff, explained that Westfield serves as a beta test site working with IMMI on safety products that help save the lives of their fellow firefighters across the nation. These products include the Smart Dock air tank securing system and a rollover system that deploys air bags and tightens seatbelts.
“They’re a global company prominent in our industry,” he said, adding the company recently did research and development on occupant restraints in the back of an ambulance. “They rode with us, observed how people moved around in the compartment. It was a real-life test opportunity.”
“We have good relations with both Westfield and Noblesville fire departments. That’s where the knowledge resides. Our relationships with them are invaluable,” Anthony said.
IMMI holds two distinctions in the crash testing industry. Its Center for Advanced Product Evaluation has a 2.2 million pound barrier block – the largest in the world. CAPE also has the distinction of having crash tested more school bus seats than any other test house in the world. In addition to school buses, CAPE also tests semi trucks, fire trucks, light rail trains and ambulances.
“The big stuff is what we do here,” Marketing Communications Manager Marissa Cotten said. “We do a lot of testing of bus seats and child restraints here. Everybody knows us as the people who put seatbelts on buses, but it’s just one part.”