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Raspberry Pi brings board build back to Britain

Column Deal with Sony overcomes time and cost issues to shift manufacturing away from China
Fri Sep 07 2012, 12:00
V3 and The INQUIRER editor Madeline Bennett

BACK IN JUNE I wrote a column bemoaning the state of UK electronics manufacturing, using the Raspberry Pi as an example of where things were going wrong.

So I was pleased today to read the news that the Raspberry Pi Foundation has turned the situation around and is bringing its manufacturing back to the UK. Its new revised board is being built in the UK at Sony's Welsh design facility and proudly displays "Made in the UK" lettering on the board itself.

When the Raspberry Pi Foundation initially looked to the UK for a manufacturing partner when the organisation was first starting out, it hit several stumbling blocks.

First was the manufacturing timeframe of 12 to 14 weeks in the UK compared to three to four weeks in the Far East.

Then there was cost - according to Raspberry Pi, the best the UK could offer was still $5 more per unit compared to the Far East.

"There was just no way to make the Raspberry Pi in the UK and keep the price at $25 for the Model A (which will be released before the end of the year at the promised price) and $35 for the Model B," wrote Liz Upton of the Raspberry Pi Foundation in a blog announcing the UK manufacturing news on Thursday.

And finally, taxes. As the Raspberry Pi designers explained earlier this year, "Simply put, if we build the Raspberry Pi in Britain, we have to pay a lot more tax."

To build in the UK, the charity would have been taxed on importing the components, which it had to source from overseas. However, importing a built item attracts no import duty.

However, the Raspberry Pi crew clearly was keen to turn around this situation and find a way to build this very British product in its homeland. Back in April, the team hooked up with Sony UK, which offers contract electronics manufacturing out of its plant in Pencoed, South Wales.

"Several meetings, a factory tour, a lot of phone calls, some Powerpoint and sandwiches, and an up-close-and-personal with a wave soldering machine later, we were able to introduce our manufacturing and distributing partners to Sony's Welsh facility," Upton noted.

"Sony's quality control system is legendary, their ability to manufacture fast and cleanly is superb, and they've already invested £50,000 in PoP (Package on Package - the fiddly stuff where the Broadcom chip at the heart of the Raspberry Pi is stacked beneath the RAM chip) hardware and expansion capability just for us."

Sony will also ensure that the parts used in the boards are ethically and ecologically sound.

One of the Raspberry Pi operation's suppliers, Premier Farnell, has now shifted the bulk of its manufacturing to South Wales, creating around 30 new jobs to supply 30,000 boards per month up to an initial order of 300,000. This should be a great selling point for Farnell, and I hope that buyers will consider this when choosing where to buy one of the coveted Raspberry Pi computers.

As Liz Upton said, "How do you know if you've got a UK-made board? Easy. Look next to the power jack; you'll see the words 'Made in the UK'. We couldn't be prouder."


I hope this will encourage more British firms to follow the Raspberry Pi Foundation and look for manufacturing partners in the UK to regenerate the industry. Maybe the heady heights reached by Team GB in the London Olympics can inspire our technology firms to also exemplify the Best of British. µ


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