Electronics Production | January 11, 2012

Raspberry Pi not 'Made in the UK'

The Raspberry Pi project has come to life; not through UK manufacturing, but with the help of Asian manufacturers.
Raspberry Pis started being made a couple of days ago and the first units from the first batch of those "tiny and cheap computers" will be rolling off the line at the end of January. This first batch will consist only of Model Bs and is 10'000 in size.

The idea was first born in 2006 and is the brainchild of Eben Upton (then a lecturer at Cambridge University). He and colleagues from the university like Rob Mullins and Alan Mycroft (both now trustees of the Raspberry Pi Foundation) continued to discuss the issue of how to attract young people to become programmers. By 2008, a group of likeminded friends and colleagues joint forces: David Braben; Jack Lang; Pete Lomas and Profesor Alan Mycroft and Dr Rob Mullins.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK registered charity.

Now, 2011/12 the charity was looking for manufacturing partners that would help bring the idea to realisation. Being a UK-based charity, all manufacturing was supposed to happen in the UK to "help bootstrap the UK electronics industry, and doing our manufacturing in the UK seemed another way to help reach our goals".

We investigated a number of possible UK manufacturers, but encountered a few problems, some of which made matters impossible. Firstly, the schedule for manufacture for every UK business we approached was between 12 and 14 weeks (compared to a 3-4 week turnaround in the Far East). That would have meant you’d be waiting three months rather than three weeks to buy your Raspberry Pi, and we didn’t think that was acceptable. (Blog Post)

Additional problems arise

Pricing in the UK varied enormously with factories’ capacity. If a factory had sufficient capacity, quotes were also high. If quotes were marginally profitable (as opposed of sending the charity into the red), production volume reached to a few hundred units a month. "Just to be able to say we’d kept all the work in one country, starts to look irresponsible."

Next up are taxes. If gadgets are produced in the UK, higher taxes are applicable. If a completed device is imported into the UK? no import duty at all. "This means that it’s really, really tax inefficient for an electronics company to do its manufacturing in Britain, and it’s one of the reasons that so much of our manufacturing goes overseas. Right now, the way things stand means that a company doing its manufacturing abroad, depriving the UK economy, gets a tax break. It’s an absolutely mad way for the Inland Revenue to be running things, and it’s an issue we’ve taken up with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills."

So - for the time being at least - manufacturing happens in Asia.


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