FAQ: Can an Arduino or Raspberry Pi Be Used in a Commercial Product?

Arduino and Raspberry Pi are open-source development boards. This means that all details of their designs are publicly available to you.

For example, you can download for free the mechanical drawings, schematic diagram, BOM, PCB layout, software, etc. for both an Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

You are allowed to copy the design and use it as a starting point for your own custom design, but the resulting new design must also be classified as open source (Creative Commons CC-BY-SA).

You are also legally permitted to embed any of these off-the-shelf development kits directly in a commercial product. The only requirement is that you say “Powered by Arduino” or “Powered by Raspberry Pi” somewhere on the package or in the instructions.

There are also various other proprietary development boards available from companies such as ST Microelectronics and Texas Instruments. These are primarily for evaluating their microcontroller chips, but in most cases they can also be embedded in a product.

So the answer is, yes, you can use most off-the-shelf development kits inside a commercial product. But the real question you should be asking is should you use a development kit inside your product.

As the name implies, development kits are primarily designed for development and early prototyping, not for mass production.

Why shouldn’t you use them for production? It generally comes down to three reasons: cost, size, and power consumption.

Increased Cost

An Arduino Uno costs about $20. If you instead designed your own custom PCB with the same functionality, it would cost only a few dollars.

For example, the ATMega328P is the microcontroller used on the Uno. This chip only costs a little over a dollar at low quantities. There are also lower cost microcontrollers available with similar or better performance.

The other main chip on the Uno is a USB-to-UART converter chip. This can be eliminated for a production product since the ability to program via a USB port using the Arduino IDE is no longer required.

This just leaves a few really low cost components such as a linear regulator, a crystal, and any connectors. The passive components (resistors and capacitors) only cost pennies.

If you were going to replicate an Arduino exactly then you’d also of course have the cost of the PCB itself and the cost of soldering on the components. However, since you will likely also still require a custom PCB for other parts of your circuit, this cost is absorbed into the cost of your custom PCB.

Regardless of the development kit, they will always be considerably more expensive than designing your own custom PCB solution.

Arduino Prototype
Development kits are ideal for early prototypes, but not for production.

Increased Size

The other downside to embedding a development kit like an Arduino or Raspberry Pi into your product is the large size. Arduino’s and Raspberry Pi’s are quite large and were never designed with small size as a priority.

For example, if your product is a smart watch, then obviously these kits aren’t practical at all. Good luck fitting an Arduino in a watch! In fact, I’d say these kits are too large for probably 80% of products.

In addition to their large size, they also likely include functions or features that you don’t require. These features may significantly increase their size.

For example, an Arduino Uno uses a large USB type-B connector, but you may wish to instead use a small microUSB connector.

The case is even worse with a more advanced kit such as a Raspberry Pi which includes an Ethernet connector, four USB type-A connectors, and HDMI connector, etc.

If you don’t require these connectors for your application then this adds a lot of additional size and weight to your product.

Increased Power Consumption

Not only do any unnecessary functions add cost and size to your product, but they also increase the power consumption.

This isn’t critical if the product is powered from an external power source. But it becomes very important for battery powered products.

For example, the USB-to-UART chip used on the Arduino Uno can consume an extra 20mA of current when active. For a product running from a small battery this can have a significant impact on battery life.

Whether it is additional cost, size or power consumption, it rarely makes sense to include unneeded functions in your product.

Conclusion

Although you can legally use a development kit in a commercial product it doesn’t usually make sense to use them for anything other than development and prototyping. This is especially true with more simple microcontroller based kits like an Arduino.

Most products still require a custom PCB be developed for any functionality required outside of the development board. If you are already having to develop, prototype, and manufacture a custom board, then in most cases it makes sense to embed the microcontroller on this same board.

There are a few exceptions, though, where an Arduino may be a viable production solution. If your product is larger sized, has a high retail price, is not battery powered, and doesn’t need a custom PCB.

For a microprocessor based product it’s a bit of a different story. Duplicating the functionality of the Raspberry Pi on your own custom PCB is a very complex process with significant development risk.

Rarely do I recommend designing a custom microprocessor board, at least initially. That should usually be done later once you reach significant production volumes.

However, there are better microprocessor boards available to use in production. The RPi is simply not designed for large scale production so you may run into availability issues or unexpected changes to the RPi itself.

If you need help migrating your product from an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to a production design then definitely check out the Predictable Hardware Report.

Leave a Reply 8 comments

Benny M Reply

And yet you completely ignored the compute module which is designed for production. Curious.

    John Teel Reply

    Hi Benny,

    Thanks for commenting. This wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive look at all the possible modules and development kits. There are of course many modules that can be embedded in a production product. These modules are commonly used in production, especially for wireless functions or CPU modules. But this short FAQ article was just intended to be about the Arduino and RPi specifically.

    That being said, which compute module are you specifically referring to?

    Thanks again for the comment!

Tim Steckler Reply

John,
All good points. While you mentioned price, you didn’t touch on availability. I’ve seen shortages of the R-Pi, as well as sudden version changes. So the other advantage of not using these types of boards after the prototype stage is “Being in control of your own destiny.” so to speak.
The other issue with the R-Pi is that unless you’re building 50k+ units a month you can’t purchase the Broadcom chip at the heart of the R-Pi.
Please let me know your thoughts on these points.
Thanks again for a good article.

    John Teel Reply

    Tim,

    Those are fantastic points that I completely agree with but forgot to mention, so thank you for sharing! In the end neither the Arduino or Raspberry Pi were developed for use in high volume production, so as you point out you are opening up all kinds of potential problems.

    As you point out, an Arduino is pretty easy to duplicate and it just uses standard chips. But the RPi uses that custom Broadcom chip that as you mention can’t be purchased at low volumes.

    There are MPU boards available though that are targeted for high-volume production. For an MCU product it is almost always best to use a custom chip-based design. For a product requiring an MPU (like the RPi) it can be very challenging and expensive to develop a custom chip-based circuit. So in those cases there are MPU boards available that are more appropriate for high volume production than an RPi.

    I’ve done articles that discuss going from an Arduino to a custom PCB, and in the future I plan to do one for the RPi as well.

    Along these lines I’ve noticed that the RPi Zero really causes issues for some people. These are priced incredibly low giving people a false sense of the price to include such a high speed processor. No one can compete on the price these sell for partially because RPi has the volume to get a custom Broadcom chip made which significantly brings down the cost. Also its very difficult to purchase more than one RPi Zero at a time.

    Thanks again for bringing these issues up! In fact, I may go back and edit the article to include these availability issues.

Craig Ross Reply

Aren’t some of the libraries for Arduino proprietary? Similarly, the Broadcom system on a chip device is subject to a pretty restrictive NDA. It seems that even though the Broadcom device allows one to embed a Linux computer in a product, much of the information needed to do a proper analysis for a product is inaccessible. As I’ve read other places, the issues with the Arduino libraries (principally performance issues), and the proprietary nature of some libraries seems to limit the utility of using the Arduino software in a product. In your article, you mention some of the issues related to incorporating either the Arduino board or the Raspberry Pi board directly into a product.

A good article, with a lot of good points for consideration.

    John Teel Reply

    Thanks for the comment Craig! Yes, the Broadcom chip is rather secretive and difficult for small startups to even consider using in a design. There are definitely some chips out there that are very difficult for startups to use (Broadcom and Qualcomm being a couple). Also as Tim points out in his comment you need to purchase the Broadcom chip in volumes of 50k+.

    Good point about the Arduino libraries and I didn’t realize there were any proprietary libraries since the Arduino is open source. I’ll need to look at that more closely. In the end I’ve never worked on bringing a product to market using an Arduino because it just rarely makes sense to do so.

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