Making The $35 Raspberry Pi Mini Computer: Quickly And Carefully Does It

Making The $35 Raspberry Pi Mini Computer: Quickly And Carefully Does It

It’s a safe bet that a fair few children of geeky moms and dads will be finding a rectangular-shaped parcel under their holiday tree tomorrow. And when they rip off the shiny wrapping those lucky kids will find an oh-so-tasty Raspberry Pi inside: a $35 mini computer that can play Blueray-quality video and has more graphical power than a Nintendo Wii — although none of that will be immediately obvious. The Pi is a learning tool not a plug-and-play toy.

The first thing the kids are likely to notice after they winkle their Pi out of its antistatic packet is that it looks a bit weird. If they’ve grown up surrounded by slick, shiny consumer gadgets like iPhones and iPads they may never have handled an uncovered circuit board before. Reclaiming electronics from the sealed box approach is all part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s plan to get kids learning to code – curiosity being an essential component of learning and creativity.

So in the spirit of stripping away a few more layers, I’ve been asking the Foundation what the secret is to making a $35 mini computer. The basic receipt is this: having extremely skilful cooks who can craft batch after batch of Raspberry Pis as quickly as possible, and with as few duds as possible.

Many Raspberry Pis are made in the UK, in Sony’s Pencoed factory in Wales which landed a multi-million pound contract to manufacture Pis for one of the Foundation’s Pi licensees, Premier Farnell, back in the fall. Premier Farnell also has two locations in China which produce Pi but the majority of its production (70 percent) is in Pencoed, and in January the factory will account for its entire Pi output. (The Foundation can’t disclose exactly how much of the Pi pie each of its licensees accounts for.)

Sony’s Pencoed factory makes an average of 4,000 Model B Pi‘s every day — or one every 7.5 seconds. Which is hard to imagine when you consider the intricacies involved in churning out thousands of double sided PCBs (printed component boards) with surface mount components on both sides and plated through hole components on the top — with blobs of molten solder being laid down in just the right spots, and the correct components stamped on them at a rate of 5.5 parts per second. And doing it all on a very tight budget.

Boards are made in panels of six Pis which go through four “key processes”: mounting the bottom surface components, mounting the top surface components, mounting the plated through hole components; and then testing and packing.


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