Raspberry Pi enters production, but not in UK

Raspberry Pi enters production, but not in UK

Summary: The groundbreaking UK £22-and-under bare-board Linux computer is finally being made in quantity, but economics have forced production to go abroad, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has said

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

The Raspberry Pi single-board open-source Linux computer, designed to bring programming back to home and school, has started production.

Raspberry Pi board

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has said the cost of import duty means it will have to manufacture the £22 model of its open-source computer abroad. Image credit: Raspberry Pi

The organisation behind the device, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, has raised thousands of pounds through prototype auctions and been cited by education minister Michael Gove as a potential hero of digital literacy. However, it says the current import duty regime has prevented it from manufacturing the computer in the UK.

"The first units from the first batch will be rolling off the line at the end of January," foundation spokesperson Liz Upton said in a blog on Tuesday. "Details about whether we'll wait for all 10k to come off the line before starting sales, and about what date we'll be starting on, will come later."

We have had to make the pragmatic decision and look to Taiwan and China for our manufacturing, at least for this first batch.

– Liz Upton, Raspberry Pi

On Wednesday, Michael Gove hailed the project in a speech to the educational training and technology BETT Show in London.

"Initiatives like the Raspberry Pi scheme will give children the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of programming with their own credit card-sized, single-board computers," he said. "This is a great example of the cutting edge of education technology happening right here in the UK. It could bring the same excitement as the BBC Micro did in the 1980s, and I know that it's being carefully watched by education and technology experts all over the world."

Although the foundation had intended to build the computer locally, it was unable to find a UK manufacturer that could make it to the cost required. Problems included a lack of capacity at a reasonable price. Those factories able to produce the right quantities charged prices that "not only wiped out all our margins, but actually pushed us into the red", Upton said.

Import duty

The underlying reason British manufacture was impossible was the UK's policy on import duty, she added.

"One cost in particular really created problems for us in Britain [...] we have to pay a lot more tax. If a British company imports components, it has to pay tax on those."

Most are components not made in the UK, Upton noted. "If, however, a completed device is made abroad and imported into the UK — with all of those components soldered onto it — it does not attract any import duty at all," she said.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is looking at making the Model A, a £16 version with no Ethernet and 128MB RAM, in the UK as it expects far fewer of these to be sold and thus it will be economical to do in small, cheap runs. The £22 Model B with 256MB memory is going abroad.

"We have had to make the pragmatic decision and look to Taiwan and China for our manufacturing, at least for this first batch," Upton said.

As part of the first round of publicity and to raise funds for further developments, the Foundation has put the first 10 working Raspberry Pi prototypes on eBay. Unit #1 has attracted bids of over £3,000 to date. The first auction to complete, for unit #10, raised £2,100: another unit sold for £989, with the anonymous buyer then donating the device to the Computer Museum at the Centre for Computing History.

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Topic: Emerging Tech

Rupert Goodwins

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  • so the british government are in effect taxing companies to stop them producing leading edge product like this in the UK and forcing them to be made abroad!
  • I never knew about this apparently ridiculous and anomalous situation regarding import duties until reading this item. This must, without doubt, hit many other industries and consumers to make made in UK uncompetitive.

    Where's the incentive to our own industry and innovation? Is this a consequence of being a member of the EU; or is it a home grown stupidity, hastening the demise of our already decimated industry.
    The Former Moley
  • What did you think VAT was? It is added onto the product at every step of the way. Why do think things cost so much as in the EU as compared to the U.S. for the same product? They only add a local tax to the product in the U.S. at the point of retail sale not in every step of the manufacturing process. And duty on top of the VAT is just pouring salt into an open wound. It's nice to see the government incentivising business to maintain some manufacturing capability here...NOT!
  • @MikeLikesIt.

    The argument is not about VAT, VAT is well understood. The argument is about a tax regime which does rather provide a disincentive to our manufacturing industries to manufacture in the UK and which you have acknowledged in your last sentence.
    The Former Moley
  • Expect nothing less from Britian. For the last 30 years succesive govt's have ruined almost every sector of British manufacting with the aim of providing cheap labour to the service industry. The govt would rather look out for a few hundred bankers and have the rest of the population serving them.
  • "The underlying reason British manufacture was impossible was the UK's policy on import duty, she added."

    I'm not sure you're actually right with this, or that Liz Upton actually wrote that. From that very blog post:

    "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."

    Secondly, they do state that it would have been possible to manufacture profitably within the UK, it's just that those that could had problems with capacity. Certainly, the import tax creates a big obstacle and would have affected price, but it's wrong to state that it explains why "British manufacture was impossible". Ultimately it seems to be that the far east have the capacity and can simply produce it cheaper, and that's not just down to the import tax.
  • Knapper - what she said prior to that quote was "I’d like to draw attention to one cost in particular that really created problems for us in Britain." - and then went on to talk about the import duty issue.

    I know from other manufacturers (and having worked for a small company trying to build electronic devices myself) that this is the biggest problem: the lack of capacity and high costs of UK manufacture comes about because the local market for production is so distorted by the component import tariff.

    The Raspberry Pi Foundation is clearly happy to build stuff in the UK even if it is slightly more expensive -- and it shouldn't be that much more expensive, as making PCBs is highly automated no matter where you do it so labour costs aren't that huge a factor.
  • UGov/number 10 petition:
  • Back at Raspberry Pi. I'm hugely in favour of it, but have a reservation that it's us 40-something trying to capture our lost youth. I agree that ICT is rubbish, and that it is better classed as office skills. It is a very boring course, but computing science is perhaps the new Latin, something niche and specialist.

    I want my teenage sons to have a Raspberry Pi, but they don't want one. The Lego Mindstorms got used once, I failed to interest them in Sketch.

    I'm torn between my initial thoughts that everyone should learn to code, to understand what an instruction set is, how fetch-execute works and ultimately how you get from "ones and zeros" to some code that runs. I suspect a lot of programmers don't know this as they knit together APIs, but looking at my sons, and the belief that the time for this tobe a specialist skill has come.

    Perhaps it is no more useful than Classics, RS or Latin.
    Simon Rockman