Lets say you’ve been working on your Raspberry Pi based prototype for a while, and you’re starting to think about what you’d need to do to bring it to market. It can feel like a big jump, but you have options available to you if you want to turn your hobby project into an actual product.
The first thing that’s important to say is that I would not recommend using the Pi Zero for a commercial product.
It’s tempting because of it’s small size, low cost, and very good value. The Pi Zero is an absolutely brilliant prototyping board for that reason and it’s a good idea to keep a couple around. The problem is that it is very difficult to get hold of them in scale, you’d struggle to get hold of more then 100 of them at a time due to their low production runs. On top of that they’re made at a loss, which means that there’s no economy of scale to a bulk order. From talking to suppliers that work with the technology, there’s also no guarantee that the design won’t change in the future.
So what about the Raspberry Pi B?
Compared to the Pi Zero this design has the advantage of being available in much higher numbers and being a stable design. In particular Farnell offers the design in boxes of 150 in bulk at a reasonable discount. There are two big caveats to hold in mind:
1) Although it’s definitely available in bigger numbers then the Pi Zero, you’re still likely to struggle if you want to buy more then 1000.
2) It uses SD cards to handle its memory. These can be expensive compared to embedded flash memory, and has a higher risk of failure, especially if it is constantly being written and read to. If it powers off while being accessed, it can lead to memory corruption causing it to break down.
I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with using this part in your design with these in mind, but don’t forget that it was designed for hobby coding and prototyping. These can very quickly become a showstopper for your business.
It’s worth also pointing out that there are now a few competitors to the space, such as the OrangePi that may be worth looking into in case you need a variant of the part that’s a different dimension or has a different spec.
The part that the Raspberry Pi Foundation recommends for this however is the Compute Module.
It’s essentially the bare minimum of what makes up a Raspberry Pi, enclosed in a small RAM chip sized board. It doesn’t have any external ports or embedded WiFi, but does come with an internal 4GB ram flash chip.
It’s available at scale, and has been tested to industrial conditions, and can better benefit from economies of scale compared to the alternatives. The downside is that it has no external ports or interfaces built into it, requiring you to design your own PCB that can work with it.
If you’re interested in designing with one, I would recommend that you purchase a development board and use that as your reference for the design and platform to prototype the code while you wait for it to be delivered.