Arduino: A visit to the factories
The Pill-A team suggest to take this Pill with the song
Arduino: A visit to the factories
Strambino (Ivrea) / Italy
Photography courtesy Alice Mela, Pietro Leoni
Writer: Alice Mela
Arduino: The future we were looking for
We live in a time of crisis, where people loose jobs and factories are quickly closing, especially in the Italian peninsula. In this apocalyptic scenario it is sometimes relieving to rediscover the potential of Made in Italy, with its local productions still able to create hopes and breakthrough innovation.
This is the feeling we had while visiting Arduino factories, in Strambino (Ivrea), at the feet of the Graian Alps. Gianluca Martino from Smart Projects (one of the companies working with/for Arduino) gave us a tour in different areas of the Arduino production line and supply chain.
Along our visit, Arduino’s business model revealed its strength in being a very flexible network of people and SME (small and medium size businesses, PMI in Italian). The brand Arduino, Gianluca explains us, doesn’t actually produce anything under that name, which is more an umbrella-brand that encompasses different realities from design, to image, to production. The main hardware producer, Gianluca continues, is System Elettronica and some other partners in case of need for production peaks.
The whole cycle of design and production happens in an area of less than 5 km2. Most of the boards are designed and assembled in the Smart Projects facilities, while the production of the PCBs (Printed circuit boards) happens in System Elettronica. This latter is a small company specialized in Pcb printing, working for different clients including Arduino and offering the highest quality, thanks to their investment in innovation, their expert employees (of whom many coming from an Olivetti past) and the quality of their machines, all exclusively made in Italy. Here CAD Eagle drawings become physical and colorful boards. While visiting the production line of System Elettronica, the owner Ludovico Apruzzese explains us that Arduino was the first case of PCBs becoming products on their own, beautiful and well detailed in order not to be hidden inside products as usual, but to be used as a main tool. This marketing aspect have created an identity behind the product which makes it recognizable thanks to the typical blue color and in recent times to the graphic image designed by Todo, a design studio based in Turin.
While walking through the last steps of the assembly line, back in Smart Projects, we are introduced to the quality check station, where operators manually check every single board. Here we are told that the failure rate is about 1% at the quality check and just 0,5% from final users, after the boards have entered the market. This precision in producing and controlling the quality of their products, have granted Arduino an international fame of reliability also from industrial realities. Thanks to this trust Arduino products are nowadays designed and used also for external industrial productions like fridges and other house appliances, but—Gianluca confesses us—only for projects/partners the Arduino team like.
Arduino’s platform became famous abroad at first and only in recent times in Italy. This happened, according to our guide, because the team made the decision of keeping everything on an international tone, using web platforms and English as the official language and unfortunately this created a barrier for the not-so-good-in-English Italian public. Furthermore, Gianluca adds with a sarcastic tone, Italians have a certain reticence towards Made in Italy products, considering foreign productions superior and looking at open source platforms with suspicion.
Arduino today produces about 5.000 boards per day, with the highest market share in USA, followed by Germany and UK. Many steps in the production line are still accomplished by hand (like packaging and some moving steps of the boards between machines), but the production is getting slowly more and more mechanized, following the growing of sales and profit. The birth and development of this reality was certainly helped by the know-how left by Olivetti in the ’80s and the small-scale industry typical of the Canavese area. This visit showed us a reminder of how creative Italians can be and how our flexible economical system, based on small businesses and know-how networks, can give us hope towards an economical recovery if supported. Arduino also demonstrated that a new form of design in Italy is still possible where technology, rather than old masters, drives innovation.
As the DIY (Do It Yourself) community would say in this case “You don’t really own it if you don’t open it”, with this motto we wish you a good tinkering day with Arduino boards.