Engineering Comfort and Safety

David Merrick spends his workdays improving the safety of bus and truck drivers and passengers. He is a product development engineer for IMMI, a company based in Westfield, Ind., which specializes in advanced safety systems for commercial vehicles such as heavy trucks, buses, and construction equipment. Merrick is responsible for translating engineering ideas into practical, manufacturable and comfortable seating products. One of those products, the Premier motorcoach seat, earned his engineering team win the 2009 Henry Ford II Distinguished Award for Excellence in Automotive Engineering at the SAE World Congress. Merrick’s team was honored for designing a seat that “meshes school bus passenger safety with motorcoach comfort.” IMMI had been approached by Greyhound to create seats that were safer for passengers in the event of collision. The IMMI team adapted their company’s patented school bus seat design, which protects belted and unbelted passengers, to include comfort features, such as reclining seatbacks. Premier seats are now included in all new Greyhound buses, and the transportation company’s marketing materials tout the improved safety of the fleet. In Merrick’s 23-year career at IMMI, he has been awarded 25 patents for various inventions related to seat belt systems, many which are related to restraint comfort.     One of his first patents was for a seatbelt buckle still used today in heavy trucks. “Mostly what I’ve been doing is comfort-type devices for heavy trucks to make the seatbelt more comfortable to wear,” he said. “If it is more comfortable, drivers are more likely wear it.” Merrick began his work at IMMI after graduating from Purdue with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology in 1983. He said the industry has experienced a lot of innovation since that time, following the trends of the automotive industry. “When I first got started, heavy trucks were graduating from lap belts to three-point seatbelts, which was normal in cars since the ‘70s,” he said. “Heavy trucks now are just getting into airbags.” Merrick credits a lesson he learned in his undergraduate machine design class with providing a template for working as a design engineer. “We were told that there are 18 different ways of doing the same thing. That really helped me, because that’s a lot of what I do now. The more ways you can think of to solve a problem, eventually you’ll hit one that is optimum for your particular need,” he said. The IMMI Premier engineering team included two other Purdue alumni, both from the School of Mechanical Engineering: project manager Chris Foye ’88 and program manager John Szalai ‘04.