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


Mike avatar

I received my pibow last week perfect engineering & looks the part too !

Ashley Basil avatar

I put my second Pi in Your Pibow and my son nicked it! well done, lets see what he will do with it?

Paul Beech avatar

Nice work there :-)

One thing we like is how visible the Pibow makes the Pi. Some people don’t notice circuit boards or think ‘not for me’. We want people who wouldn’t normally look twice at the Pi to get interested.

Simon Rackstraw avatar

It’s so good I had to buy another! Great work guys.

Ross avatar

Received mine today, looks spectacular – thanks guys!

Dave Gallop avatar

This case is the best Waiting for the PIface Slices to be available put video together to show how easy it is to make

Katy avatar

Mine’s been sat next to the TV looking pretty for a good few weeks now – though I am slightly jealous that newer ones have much funkier packaging :)

Great to see more photos/detail of the how it’s made – and what a fantastic success story!

Paul Beech avatar

Oh, you have the early collector’s limited edition packaging? Wow! :D

Thanks for being interested. More details will emerge. We’re not too far (weeks) from releasing the designs for non-commercial purposes. So then people can get stuck in, and learn by doing hopefully :-)

David avatar

The early collector’s limited edition packaging, for those of you unlucky not to own it, has echoes of Bauhaus – form follows function – throwing the exuberant, bon vivant, butterfly pibow into a stark, artistic relief. I had to sit down after opening mine… :-)

Or was it intended to echo the white heat of the industrial revolution?

Damian Fell avatar

Loved my Pi-Bow, ordered a second, I know it’s a bit counter intuitive with the name, but have you guys though about doign them in a single clour, such as all in black?

Paul Beech avatar

We could *possibly* comment. Mainly because we’re too busy cutting crescents of Pibows ;)

tbar avatar

If it were available in boring black then it would be a lot easier to sneak an RPi into the living room….

Simon Walker avatar

or blue, like the Adafruit version I saw on their site…

Ken MacIver avatar

As an ex-pat Sheffielder, I do hope that libation is Wards or at least Tetleys.
Congratulations guys.
So presumably once you catch up on back orders you’ll be accepting orders for laser cut one off pieces\prototypes designed on our R-Pi’s.

liz avatar

Paul has been very insistent on the excellence and local-ness of the beer when we’ve visited him. (He even found us a pub that served toast and dripping. Brilliant.)

Ken MacIver avatar

Ahhh Ethnic Food; Two other local delicacies to try next time you’re up..
1) Fishcakes NOT Rissoles; but two slabs of Spud sandwiching a small piece of fish, all battered together a wonderful snack.
2) Hendersons Relish; elixir on pies ….

LJ avatar

Thats it I need a trip back to sheffield, hendersons relish (drool). Is there a delivery service to those who moved away?

Any good eateries left? There was the hidden burger place near the moor, did a great huntmans in a huge bun! Hopefully Chubbies is no more though – I asked for cheesy chips and got french fries with cottage cheese on top – bluegh.

LJ avatar

Oh and I forgot about the Yorkshiremans Arms, one Sunday lunch there took us 7 hours to eat, my girlfriend was full after just the starter and we had paid for 3 courses. Poor girl was nearly in tears by the end. Yorkshire portions are sometimes painful.

Ken MacIver avatar
guru avatar

The aboriginal cuisine of chips with squeezy cheese can still be found. Kebabish still reigns. Sheffield is doing pretty well for food now with the Milestone and the joys of London Road. We even have more than one Japanese restaurant now!

Paul Beech avatar

Sadly Wards has passed on to become more flats. We do have the Sheffield Brewery next door and the excellent Kelham Island Brewery a stone’s throw away. I think the last time anyone checked Sheffield had over 250 different real ales on tap at the same time :-)

liz avatar

*Points up* That’s Paul, everybody. Hello Paul!

Paul Beech avatar

Hullo! \o

LJ avatar

I heard about Wards closing, great shame. Is the pub near the old Wards brewery still there? It used to be the unofficial Sheffield Hallam University rooms for Lecturers to meet with Students, that was when programmers were more rogue like and not as mainstream as they are nowadays ;-).

guru avatar

Don’t think so. The area’s changed a bit. They have an M&S Café where the renault garage was now. The Red Deer still does good trade for lecturers though :)

Ravenous avatar

Lasers and beer… the horror, the horror…

Actually I fancy some laser cut plastic bits for a robot arm or something… hmmm… the trouble would be making sure people send in valid files without errors (very expensive to trash a whole sheet on a one-off order).

guru avatar

Have you checked out Razorlab in the UK for that sort of thing? http://www.razorlab.co.uk/

On demand custom laser cutting. Somewhat pricey, but very geek-friendly :-)

MINKIN2 avatar

How do you all manage to wrap your heads around having such an affect on peoples lives Liz? It’s really amazing to us bystanders to see stories like Pauls, going from a few hours in a hacker space to full blown production with thanks to the little credit card sized hobby board.

Thank you Paul for sharing your story with us, I wish you all at Pibow towers all the success in the your enterprise.

liz avatar

With shock and awe, mostly.

Ken MacIver avatar

I think it’s called a disruptive technology or what that economist guy (nassim nicholas taleb) calls a black swan. No one sees it coming but once it’s there it’s obvious. The rest of us just call it damn good fun..

Throopy avatar

I received my Pibow today and could still smell the manufacturing process, it almost felt as though it was made yesterday! I am a complete novice with all things Pi & Linux related and now I have the case and Pi married up, my journey can begin! Woop….(I need to get out more probably!). Thanks for supplying it!

Jonathan Williamson avatar

If you received it today there is a good chance it was made yesterday :D

Andy Hassall avatar

Got mine a couple of days ago, great stuff! http://i.imgur.com/jmV5b.gif

Jonathan Williamson avatar

Haha, nice animation :) We love all the videos people make and pictures they post!

Salamander avatar

I know it’s a little bit OT, but may I ask the name of the font used at the first picture?

Jonathan Williamson avatar

Paul is the designer (I’m a mere code-monkey!) but I think it’s the same one we use on the http://pibow.com website – “Omnes Pro”.

guru avatar

Omnes. It’s part of the Typekit font family.

Carlvk avatar

We got ours a few weeks back my 8yr old daughter assembled it and has pretty much commandeered the Pi ever since.
A real quality piece of kit! thank you

Mark avatar

Looks really nice but I was surprised at the price. It costs half the price of an entire Pi :(

guru avatar

If it lasts you 10 years, it’s great value. It really is that solid as a unit :-)

don isenstadt avatar

great article … I love my case .. and others have remarked on it.. also when I put new cables into it they “just fit” ! :-) Having gone to the lego store first and tried to do it myself I now have great appreciation for the engineering that went into your product.. thanks! :-)

Christophe C. avatar

great article !
it’s nice to see the eco-system around RPi developping good business.
I got my case a few weeks ago (I was in the firsts to buy it I think).

As an advice, I think you should make “derivate” product. for example : a mono-color case, or a case with a larger base to tag a name, or a case with a larger base on one side to attach the gert-board, or (and I think this is even better) a case where you can change the cover or some other piece from time to time (if you change your mind or want to make it more personnal).

Sean Higgins avatar

Well done guys. I like my Pibow. Make the Pi look coooool.

Les Cook avatar

Great story & good luck with your future plans.

I’ve had my PiBow for a good few weeks now – much, much better than the previous case I had which allowed the Pi to wobble and didn’t hold it steady…the PiBow fits perfectly, holds my Pi rock solid and allows cables and SD cards to slot in easily.

Colin avatar

So there really is a pot of gold at the end of the Pibow! ;-)


AndrewS avatar

And now being sold at Maplin too! http://www.maplin.co.uk/pibow-colour-raspberry-pi-case-652812

Congrats on your success :-)

Jonathan Williamson avatar

Yes! Can’t wait to see them on the shelves – very exciting for us :)

NAB avatar

In stock and with free delivery too!

NAB avatar

So, it arrived and very nice it looks too. I’m happy to have supported the company.

Just three niggles though:
1) One of the pieces of plastic had snapped. Not a problem in the final build as the way it had broken meant it holds in place when screwed together.
2) I had to buy some more micro USB cables as none of mine had an end small enough to fit into the space left for the power supply.
3) When built and screwed together, the SD slot mechanism is compressed ever so slightly. Unfortunately this means that when the case is screwed together you can’t get an SD card in (or remove one if it’s fitted) – you have to loosen the nuts first.

Overall, it looks nice and when the minor glitches are worked out, it’ll be great.

Steve avatar

Aw, that’s so not fair. Got my new (3rd) Pi today, ordered from RS months ago. So long ago I almost forgot about it! And at the time of ordering I added 2 black cases to the list. They all turned up today, and then you post this…. Humph.

Gretar avatar

You guys are awesome, I’ve ordered mine and I will be watching your progress!

Dr. Mouse avatar

“Hackspace Rule #0: Don’t be on fire.”

I sometimes have trouble with this one… Like when I installed an alarm on my motorbike and failed to pay attention to cable routing. What I learned: Regulators get hot, burn through any stray live wire, short it out and set fire to the regulator and battery. This is not a good thing when said regulator and battery are placed right between your legs.

Needless to say, on my next bike I was very careful installing an alarm, routing and securing all cables out of the way, and fusing the live wire as close to the battery as possible. No fires yet.

LJ avatar

Great design (he says as it’s supporting people in Sheffield), though I do wonder if the colour scheme might encourage men only discos to crop up (kidding). Any advice for how to get started producing strong durable parts? (for the many insane ideas I tend to have).

Mattt avatar

Just ordered 2 cases direct from you guys as I assume more of the income gets to you that way. (1 for me and the other for nephew)

Jonathan Williamson avatar

Yes it certainly does! Thank you very much :)

juanRIOT avatar

Magnificent post! I’m 10 weeks smarter now and all I needed to do was flex my brain muscles. Thank you very much for posting Pimoroni. My thanks also to
Liz for keeping things transparent between the Raspberry Pi team and the community by way of all soulful posts like this; I would have needed to hire
Julia Roberts and Clive Owen to spy if this had been a multinational corp.

Much appreciated guys!

Dave avatar

Any chance of making these in non-rainbow?

Jonathan Williamson avatar

We couldn’t possibly comment :)

KarlD avatar

Love it, fitted perfectly, looks great. But have told Paul would love the option for all black, white, silver (or any colour) to fit with home cinema stuff. Fab fab work though, no pun intended.

The Wizard In Green avatar

My Pibow made it effortlessly into the Netherlands (well done guys !). But my Raspberry Pi has not arrived yet (‘sigh’). So me and Pibow are camping now next to the mailbox awaiting the coming of the Great Raspberry Pi.

Mac Rutan avatar

This is such a great story within a great story. Recursive productivity! Pi’s lead to pibows, and the world is a better place!
I really appreciate the efficient use of acrylic. Aside from the recycling, it looks as if you have sub millimeter borders between your components on the templates! Nice job on that!

Jonathan Williamson avatar

We do cut it tight! 1.4mm and 1.6mm I believe :)

Have to be careful about going too close otherwise the acrylic can warp too much when being cut.

Stephen Scott avatar

I’ve given in, and just placed an order direct from your site. It’s a fantastic bit of design, coupled with a fantastic bit of kit. I look forward to receiving it!

omenie avatar

This is totally brilliant! If you guys want to manufacture synthesizers, ping me. Sheffield and synthesizers are strongly linked.

omenie avatar

Oh, and beer – I was brought up in the old Stones’ brewery in Burton Road – and it didn’t put me off beer.

Clive Shaw avatar

Awwrr, thanks for this update ! I bought one of the first Pibow’s and it is superb and it now houses the Pi which I show to all my friends. It feels a lot more solid and well built than other acrylic cases I have bought. AND ! It’s made in my home county !

PacificDragon64 avatar

Bought a Pibox for my shiny new RaspberryPi, and now my sexy Pi just got sexier.

Thanks Pimoroni for making the impossible, possible.

macdroog avatar

Awesome, these pibows looks great!

Rob Uttley avatar

Love my Pibow, I ordered it as soon as it was announced here and it came pretty quickly too. One thing I’ve been meaning to say though – the recessed space around the HDMI socket area could do with being a bit bigger – both of the HDMI cables I had to hand had slightly larger ‘plugs’ and wouldn’t fit into the socket on the Pi properly because of the case. I had to take my trusty Draper ‘dremel’ to the case to make the recessed square a little wider (not deeper, just wider) and wondered if anyone else had encountered problems with their HDMI cables?
As an ex-Sheffield lad myself (well, Dronfield), it’s really nice to see you doing well. Congratulations!

asettico avatar

Really cool! :-)
What’s about the space for any heatsink? Something like this:

asettico avatar

Reading more carefully at that page, in the fifth review you can read: “Still fits inside a Pibow nicely”.
HTH :-)

Phil Buckley-Mellor avatar

I got my Pibow some weeks ago and I’ve been extremely pleased with it, not only from a design perspective but from a functional one too. I couldn’t recommend them higher.

AndrewS avatar

Suggestion: When/if you allow multiple orders, maybe you could also offer extra-long bolts to allow pibows to be stacked together :)
And maybe you could offer just slightly-longer bolts to allow the pibow to be bolted/mounted to other surfaces?

reiuyi avatar

I’m still pondering about ordering a PiBow or creating my own case.. Having your own case offers the opportunity to divert all connectors to one side of the device, alas making the whole deal slightly bigger; it does eliminate the spider-effect

Ralph Corderoy avatar

And interesting read Paul, thanks. When things quieten down a bit it would be nice to read how some more, perhaps on Pibow’s blog, about how you managed to move from a hackerspace prototype to a small production unit, e.g. finance, and what else you considered along the way, e.g. outsourcing production. I expect there are lots of us who would be interested in that small-business nitty-gritty.

Chris Jones avatar

I saw you at the mini makers faire in Manchester and they look quite good. Good job guys

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