A guest post from Pimoroni

Liz: I asked Paul and Jon at Pimoroni, the company they set up to make the rainbow-tacular Pibow Raspberry Pi case, to let us know how things are proceeding up in Sheffield. As well as creating 30 jobs manufacturing the Raspberry Pi in Wales, we’re really proud that the success of the Raspberry Pi has meant that other companies are appearing in the Raspberry Pi ecosystem, producing still more jobs making things like cases and other add-ons. 

Paul has gone from being That Guy Who Won the Raspberry Pi Logo Contest to owning a small manufacturing business in Sheffield, a part of the UK with a manufacturing heritage in sore need of reviving, and becoming an employer. Pimoroni’s only one of many Raspberry Pi success stories: if you’ve got a similar tale to tell, we’d love to hear from you.

We’ve met some incredible people through Raspberry Pi. We’re as proud as anything to be able to call Paul a (really great) friend – and we’re really looking forward to meeting Jon on our next trip to the Land of Wind and Ghosts (and The Full Monty). Over to Paul and Jon!

The current state of play at Pibow Towers. Click to enlarge.

We said we’d keep everyone updated on how we’re making Pibows, and what the process has been like.

It’s been pretty much 10 weeks since we started taking pre-orders, and 8 weeks since we cut the first Pibow.

Stacking and packing

The prototype work on the Pibow was done with the help of the Refab Lab at Access Space in Sheffield. This helped us get from an idea on the computer to reality. It’s also validated the rate of production, so we knew that laser cutting would allow us to make a decent number of units per day if things got busy.

We cannot stress enough how essential having a community-run laser cutter available was to making the Pibow happen. The world needs more community Maker/Hackspaces to help people use their skills to Make, Reuse and Repair stuff. Support your local Hackspace.

Cut acrylic ready for recycling

The interest from Pi owners after the post on the front page of Raspberry Pi meant our ‘crazy’ figure of maybe 1000 orders looked a bit laughable. New pants were needed at this point and a new plan.

For a start, we needed a bigger laser cutter than planned and a proper workshop to put it in. HPC Laser were amazing at holding our hands through sizing up and installing a rather large laser cutter and a supply of acrylic for the layers, and this way we didn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of importing and setting up a laser cutter with scant knowledge.

A frickin’ laser!

As far as workshop space goes, although Sheffield is renowned for steel, The Full Monty and Pulp, we have a long history of small, ingenious workshops (Little Mesters) around the area I live, which made finding space pretty easy, a sad sign of the current economy, but useful for starting up an agile manufacturing company.

Bert and Ernie, the Pibow laser cutters

Laser cutters are amazing tools. They’re relatively safe, light on maintenance and scale fairly well from prototype to production in a way that 3D printers don’t. Fire is the main risk and easily managed with care and attention. Hackspace Rule #0: Don’t be on fire.

We’re also proud that not only is all the furniture in our workshop either second-hand, salvaged, scavenged or self-produced, but we also recycle the bits left over from making Pibows into more acrylic. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

The workshop. Note third laser (printer).

It’s amazing how much the details take time with this sort of thing. We had to quickly learn how to cut the pieces reliably and consistently, check quality, organise into completed Pibows and then design and make packaging and ship them to over 60 countries. There are so many details to get wrong in all of this, but we got a decent solution to make sure packages would make it through customs easily in most places around the world.

Retail packaging

We also found that scaling up supply of things is hard. We managed to run suppliers out of just about everything. Nuts and Bolts, Labels, packaging, bubble wrap, acrylic, everything! Buying 1000 of something is harder than buying 10, and we didn’t have the luxury of waiting weeks for new stock. You guys needed Pibows NOW and we were well aware of our obligations.

A ton of acrylic

We managed to ship our first orders 3 weeks from launch. We’ve peaked at around 6-8 weeks (boooo) and we’re now rapidly catching up, as we’ve added another machine (They’re called Bert and Ernie), hired our first full-time employee (Rory) and got a lot better at everything we do.

Weighing Pibows for shipping

Still. It’s only been 2 months of production and we’ve improved and grown massively in that time. Watch out for more from us in the future – Pibow is just the start!

We want to thank everyone who bought a Pibow for their support and patience. You’ve all been super-nice, and we’ve enjoyed chatting to you, helping you, and reading all the excited tweets. Pat yourself on the back for helping create a new community-and-maker driven light manufacturing company in one of the poorest, but most awesome, cities in the UK.

A reward after a hard day’s cutting, stacking, packing, tweeting, emailing and dispatching.

We also want to thank Oomlout, Adafruit, Maplin, HPC Laser, Perspex UK, Dust and especially our friends and families for helping us go from zero to over 7000 Pibows shipped in 10 weeks, from nowt but an idea.

And most of all, we’d like to thank Eben and Liz and the Raspberry Pi Foundation for making this possible.

– Paul and Jon