High demand drives Raspberry Pi shortage
Raspberry Pi boards are in increasingly short supply as demand has exploded and lead times have increased for a wide range of components leading to delays through 2021.
“This is a particularly tough time. The main distributors Farnell and RS and both are heavily impacted by the pandemic and Brexit,” said Maria Chizzali, chief operating officer of Sfera Labs in Italy that has recently launched a sensor system based on various versions of the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4.
“It’s not easy to procure the Raspberry Pi4 module so we have secured supply with two versions and will launch with those. As soon as availability goes back to normal we will supply other options,” she said. “We have a relationship with manufacturers and buy directly from them and that helps and we have orders to mid 2022 and we try to manage the supply for those.”
“Raspberry Pi is a high-demand product in the market but, like many, has experienced supply chain challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Nicki Young, President of OKdo, a subsidiary of Electrocomponents alongside RS Components. “These challenges come about due to a significantly increasing reliance and demand on chips for use in consumer electronics to cars and everything in between as the IoT and connected movements continue to gather pace.”
“This has had a near-term impact on the inventory levels with OKdo and RS Components as we’ve had an overnight doubling of lead times,” she said. “We are managing this carefully with the inventory we do have available up until the end of the calendar year when we anticipate more availability. Okdo continues to work with our customers and partners to provide fulfilment globally, supporting their needs and their demand on the limited inventory we do have.”
“The global shortage of semiconductor products is no secret. On Raspberry Pi products, Farnell is as well positioned as we could possibly hope to be and in a manner that we believe will continue to deliver us an advantage in the marketplace,” said Lee Turner, Global Head of SBC and Semiconductors at the other main UK distributor, Farnell.
The shortage is more a result of demand than chip shortages, says Eben Upton, founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
“We are getting on better than a lot of people,” said Upton, who is also chief executive of Raspberry Pi (Trading). “What’s happening this year is there seems to be bottomless demand – it’s across the entire demand, all the single board computers and compute modules. So we will build and sell 10 percent more than last year, we shipped 7m [boards] last year, this year will be at least, 7.5m possibly more if we can get the chips,” he said. “We put investment in last year for growth, and we’ve had great support from customers and from European perspective we are a big customer and we have good long term relationships with our vendors.”
Upton says the foundation has been continuously upgrading orders for the last 15 months. “That’s the thing that saved us and why we will do more this year,” he said.
“What’s galling is the overall shortage, it isn’t any particular vendor, but it’s stopping us from flexing up. If lead times were six months for getting components before, now it’s more like a year,” he said.
The foundation is also a supplier of its own microcontroller chip for its own boards and other suppliers such as Adafruit and Arduino. “It’s been a great year to start selling chips,” he said. “We invested in capacity with TSMC last year on 40LP, we’ve had really good support on wafers, there may be issues test and packaging but that’s just a measure of how much silicon we are producing, as there’s 21,000 die per wafer at a die size of 2mm2.”
“The advice for customers is to get the orders in and communicate. Help us understand what we need to do to help your line stop going demand. It’s no use to us if a Raspberry Pi goes into a stockpile, we need to be honest about where the demand is. This is just a supercycle in demand and supply, but for a lot of our customers this is the first time it has happened to them.”
Brexit was a factor at the start of the year, especially as the boards are built at a Sony plant in South Wales.
“In January there were problems with both couriers and commercial entities not being ready for Brexit, but these challenges are long since resolved from our perspective,” said Farnell.
“We have changed courier for continental Europe as we had some challenges but I think having done that it’s not a problem,” said Upton at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. “There’s one additional documents with the shipment and that’s the same as the US or Malaysia, but we are quite big so we have a lawyer on retainer to help us and our customers work through issues, but then demand moves across to the European distributors.”