Penn State mechanical engineers drive innovation at Honda R&D Americas

Penn State alumnus John Barlow with the Honda ROAV, a concept vehicle that he helped design.  Credit: HondaAll Rights Reserved.

MARYSVILLE, Ohio — Penn State mechanical engineers John Barlow (class of 1994) and Joseph Imbriale (class of 2018) are passionate about bringing engineering excellence — and Penn State pride — to Honda R&D Americas Inc.

When they began their respective positions at the company — which develops Honda and Acura vehicles, side-by-sides and ATVs, lawnmowers, marine and jet engines, and assistive robotics — they weren’t aware of their shared alma mater.

“I was at an associate chili cook-off and recognized John from one of his projects and said hello. Of course, he had a necklace on with the Nittany Lion logo,” Imbriale said. “He really took me under his wing once we found this connection.”

But it was a project Barlow spearheaded that proved to be a real game-changer for him, Imbriale, and Honda.

Building on the culture of innovation at Honda, Barlow was able to pursue and champion a passion project — a rugged, open-air concept vehicle, which the company now calls ROAV.

Described as the ultimate adventure vehicle, it merges an existing Honda Ridgeline pickup truck and Honda Pioneer side-by-side to create a convertible-like experience that can tackle any terrain.

“The desire was all about the open-air experience. That is what drove my passion,” Barlow said. “Driving a convertible, there’s nothing like it. I wanted to bring that experience into another project.”

Powered by Barlow and his team’s ingenuity, the ROAV concept was a hit.

Over an extremely tight deadline of three months, Barlow and his team of engineers designed and built the concept to be presented at the 2018 Specialty Equipment Market Association show, a premier automotive trade event bringing together the brightest minds in the industry.

By combining Honda’s pickup and all-terrain side-by-side, the company describes the project as “a physical thought exercise.”

“We are always trying to create products that make people’s lives easier, happier and safer. This project really was to see what we could accomplish,” Barlow said.

Seeing the concept vehicle constructed, Barlow was blown away.

“I don’t even know how you can encapsulate it into words,” he said. “It was a dream come true.”

Imbriale, earlier in his career as a design engineer, is hoping he can make a similar impact. Starting in the summer of 2018, he collaborates with other engineers and designers to bring Honda’s newest projects to life.

“There is so much that goes into designing automotive parts,” Imbriale said. “And here, we’re really dedicated to quality and attention to detail.”

He also credits his capstone project at Penn State, working with Ford to design adjustable seat bolsters, for giving him real-world industry experience before he graduated.

“Without that experience, I don’t know if I’d be here today,” he said. “A lot of schools obviously have capstone projects, but Penn State opening the door to work with companies of that caliber is fantastic for students.”

With a keen focus on real-world skills, Barlow and Imbriale see a lot of parallels in the work environment at Honda and in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“We are all expected to be well-rounded, and Penn State prepared us for that,” Imbriale said. “Working at Honda is so much like Penn State, where I could be moving from the Learning Factory, my capstone project, to classes, to working in a group.”

Barlow agreed and said, “Most important, Penn State taught us to think like engineers. With all the hands-on work, you are able to take all that engineering knowledge you’re given and you use it to solve problems and make something incredible.”

Last Updated February 18, 2019