Premier Farnell's Element 14 is offering to manufacture turnkey hardware designs based on the popular Raspberry Pi single board computer, a move intended to give a boost to technology startups developing solutions for the Internet of Things (IoT) and other embedded applications.
Available worldwide from today, the Raspberry Pi Customisation Service will provide small businesses with help in designing and manufacturing customised versions of the Raspberry Pi device portfolio in order to better meet their requirements.
Element 14 is one of the main manufacturing and distribution partners with which Raspberry Pi Trading has worked to produce the Raspberry Pi, and a new agreement between the two gives Element 14 exclusive rights to offer this service.
The move follows numerous requests from OEMs for customised versions of the Raspberry Pi boards, according to Richard Curtin, Premier Farnell's global director for strategic alliances.
"This agreement opens up the potential for the Raspberry Pi to be customised for applications across a wide range of industries, from customers in IoT technology to energy management, right through to industrial automation," he said.
The firm typically expects to see requests from customers to reconfigure the board layout, add extra functions, and add or remove interface connectors, Curtin explained.
A key part of the Raspberry Pi Customisation Service is that Element 14 will be able to offer it in volumes starting at somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 units, depending on the complexity. This should prove helpful to small companies trying to get a new product to market that cannot afford to invest in a large production run.
The move follows the introduction of the Raspberry Pi Compute Module last year (pictured), which essentially shrank the Raspberry Pi into a form factor the same size as a memory module for easier integration into other hardware.
This was itself launched in recognition of the fact that, while the Raspberry Pi started out as an educational tool, it was increasingly being used by hobbyists in hardware projects and by manufacturers as an embedded module to drive products ranging from media players to air conditioning units.
This is thanks to the Raspberry Pi's low cost, small size and ability to run a full-blown operating system such as Linux, and a relatively powerful graphics subsystem that can be used to drive monitor displays.
"It was intended as a kid's toy, but the interesting thing is that people have been finding other things to do with it," said Eben Upton, chief executive of Raspberry Pi Trading.
He said that a large fraction of the three million Raspberry Pi units sold over the past year or so had gone to manufacturers in order to automate factory processes and be embedded into products, and that a profusion of small businesses has sprung up using the Raspberry Pi to build products at a relatively small scale.
"Today is the next phase of that. A lot people see the Compute Module as the right solution, but there will also be some people who want a tighter form factor or a lower cost point, or more integration, or don't want the mechanical complexity of mounting the Compute Module onto a motherboard," he explained.
Element 14 and Raspberry Pi Trading will keep a close eye on the kinds of customisations being asking for, and Curtin said that his firm intends to mass produce the most popular requests and offer them as a standard product from the Element 14 website.
"This is just phase one of the service: to make it available to OEM/ODM customers. However, we expect it to drive aggregation of popular requests so that we can start to popularise them into designs that we can make available off the shelf," he said.
The Raspberry Pi is now available in a number of versions, including the Raspberry Pi 2 that launched earlier this year with a more powerful multi-core processor and more memory.
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