March 11 - As labour and transport costs increase, companies around the world are moving manufacturing away from China and back to their home markets. Element 14, one of the suppliers of the credit card-sized computer, the Raspberry Pi, have moved the production back to Britain, and Raspberry Pi says it allows them to respond better to increases in demand. Joanna Partridge reports.
A home-grown success story. A credit card-sized computer designed in the UK - now being made here. Raspberry Pi has proved a hit with technology fans and those learning about computing. Eben Upton and its other founders originally used a manufacturer in China. But they moved half the production to a Sony plant in South Wales last year. SOUNDBITE: Eben Upton, Executive Director, Raspberry Pi Foundation, saying (English): "We never saw any reason why it shouldn't be possible to build the Pi's in the UK, we always thought the economics would work, but until we came here we hadn't really found a way to make it work." China used to be the world's go-to goods producer. But labour and transport costs have been increasing in the Far East. American firms have been "reshoring" manufacturing of electronics and machinery for a few years - now firms in Europe are following suit - especially in Germany and the UK. SOUNDBITE: Eben Upton, Executive Director, Raspberry Pi Foundation, saying (English): "Having somewhere we can drive to and back from in a day, having a place where we obviously speak the language just allows us to have a deeper interaction with the manufacturing process than we'd have if had to get on a plane to go and visit the factory." The Raspberry Pi production line is mostly automated - helping keep labour costs relatively low. The factory was designed for making televisions. But technology moved on, and Sony now makes broadcast cameras at the site, while also providing other firms with floor space. Steve Dalton is MD of the centre. SOUNDBITE: Steve Dalton, Managing Director, Sony UK Technology plant, saying (English): "We've been manufacturing very high technology electronic boards for some of our broadcast equipment, so i t was fairly easy for us to adapt and have the skill and capability to make it. The volume's another issue. We haven't made such a high volume number of product for several years, but it's not something that was alien to us." Moving manufacturing from China back to Britain does seem to be a trend, says Chris Richards from the Institution of Engineering and Technology. SOUNDBITE: Chris Richards, Manufacturing Policy Advisor, Institution of Engineering and Technology, saying (English): "It's definitely becoming more competitive in terms of the high-end, low volume type of activity in manufacturing. It's an area we've always excelled in because we have the high skill base in the UK, and it's something that will continue to grow, as you find a lot more manufacturers start to focus on that high-value type product." PTC: About 22,000 Raspberry Pi's are currently being made here every week, that's one coming off the production line every four-and-a-half seconds. But as demand grows, production is being increased again to 30,000 a week. In the first year, Raspberry Pi hoped to sell 10,000 computers - at 25 or 35 dollars. They sold 1 million. And now they hope to move all production back to Britain - apart from the Pi's intended for the Chinese market.