Guest post #8: School trip to Sony UK Tec by Lucy Bunce

Since summer 2012 the Raspberry Pi has been produced in the UK, specifically in the Sony factory in Pencoed, South Wales.  As the school I teach in (Y Pant Comprehensive) is about 4 miles away I decided to arrange a trip for the GCSE Computing class.  Richard Wilkins, Senior Manager thankfully thought this was a great idea so on 13th November we went for a tour of the facility, including the Raspberry Pi production line.

For most students this was their first visit to a high tech manufacturing facility.  Donning anti-static jackets and shoes, we had the full tour. The main Sony product manufactured in Pencoed is their range of broadcast cameras.  They have a clean room where dust particles are measured in order to produce high quality optical blocks. Sony also have a repair centre onsite and students were surprised to learn that the PSP one of them had sent back for repair would have been fixed here.

We had to wear anti-static jackets before entering the factory

Utilising the expertise, equipment and space in Pencoed, Sony also offer Contract Electronic Manufacturing – such as the Raspberry Pi.  They are now producing around 16,000 Raspberry Pis a week and employing 30 people on the production line.We followed a batch of 6 Raspberry Pis up the production line and saw how the basic boards arrive in the factory 6 to a board.

Raspberry Pi circuit boards at two different stages of production

Students saw the solder paste squeegeed onto the boards through a mask, then the high speed robotic arms attaching the smaller components from tape reels. The larger components are then fitted in a separate machine which moves at a slower pace to avoid knocking them out of position.

The first stage of the construction process – applying the solder paste to the boards using a mask

The small components are bought in on reels and stuck to the solder by a robotic arm

At this point the boards are checked to ensure they have all the correct components before being put into the oven.  This carefully controlled environment fixes the solder.  The boards are run through a second production line to repeat the process for the underside (SD card mount etc.).  As you’d expect, Raspberry Pis are tested for quality control and functionality within the factory and students were interested to see that software has been written to do some of this.  Computing is used in the manufacture of computing, something that hadn’t occurred to many of the students.

Checking the finished product – here we can see the stacked RAM and CPU chips

As well as seeing the Raspberry Pi production we also saw some of the other products built there such as LED streetlighting.  For fun Sony showed us how some of their broadcast filming and editing kit can be used – with a green-screen allowing them to try out Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak!  We also saw some short film clips using the 4K projector which are maintained in Pencoed.

Free office space at Sony has been turned into a Business Incubation Centre hosting many smaller companies and tech startups.  One of these, Wales Interactive, gave us a great talk.  Their 15 or so employees (in roles as programmers, animators, artists and musicians) have created a number of games and apps for iOS, Android and consoles entirely in house.  Many of the staff are graduates of the University of Glamorgan’s BSc in Computer Games Development .  For my students, seeing just some of the study and employment options open to them within a few miles of home if they choose to follow a career in Computing was a real eye opener.

Sony are producing 16,000 Raspberry Pis a week

We don’t currently have Raspberry Pis in school (I’ve been making sure one of the IT suites is kitted out with USB keyboards and mice, and screens with DVI inputs first – we’re pretty much there).  One of the students has a Raspberry Pi at home and all are now looking forward to getting their hands on some at school.

Quote from a student, Gareth:

“I thought it was really nice to find out finally where my Raspberry Pi was made, and to see all the technology and effort it takes to make one.

I use my Raspberry Pi for many things including watching videos on YouTube and basic web browsing and some small bits of coding. I also like the program scratch which allows me to build fun but basic games in my free time which comes free with the Raspberry Pi. If the school were to get some Raspberry Pi’s I think it would be fun to learn to code, on and to experience a different OS than the standard windows that we are used to.”

–Lucy Bunce, Y Pant Comprehensive School