It’s been a busy holiday and New Year’s season at Purism as we continue to ship out Librem 5s to backers each week. We know for those who haven’t received their Librem 5 yet, what they most want to know is when their Librem 5 will arrive. In summary, we will be providing shipping estimates within the next week to the backers within the original crowdfunding campaign (orders through October 2017), but not all backers yet, based on our confidence in the estimates. The rest of this post will explain what is going into our shipping estimates, and why we can’t yet provide shipping estimates to every backer.
When we published the shipping FAQ we explained some of the factors in the shipping calculation:
That calculation depends not only on their place in line, but also on our knowing our average and maximum weekly phone throughput in advance, which we don’t expect to know until we are at least a few weeks into the process. We expect to have a good idea on these projections by the end of the year, however.
Now we are happy to say that we not only have a good idea on our shipping throughput, we actually exceeded our expectations for how many we could ship! So hopefully by the end of this week, or possibly the beginning of next week, we will be contacting a large group of backers who we feel we can provide a reliable shipping estimate. Note that this will be a separate email from the emails we already send out each week to confirm shipping information to the next group of backers who are ready to receive their Librem 5.
Back when we published the shipping FAQ, we expected that by this point we would be able to provide every backer with an accurate shipping estimate and be able to predict when we would hit shipping parity–the moment when all of the backlog has cleared and a new order would be fulfilled in our standard 10-business-day window. Once you know how many Librem 5s you can ship in a week, it seems like it would be a relatively straightforward calculation to apply that to a person’s place in line and estimate a shipping date.
In our case the calculation is a little more complicated due to the fact that we employ a “Just In Time” manufacturing process for the Librem 5s, which is pretty common in the industry. We estimate our shipping throughput and make slightly more Librem 5s than we think we can ship in a period of time. The next manufacturing run of Librem 5s then arrives around the time we complete shipping out the previous run. This has a few benefits, but the main benefit is if we were to identify a hardware problem in the existing Librem 5 manufacturing process (whether a systemic flaw, or a flaw in a particular manufacturing run) it impacts a smaller number of Librem 5s and can be fixed for future batches.
So when making these shipping estimates, we not only factor in our shipping throughput, but also the size of future manufacturing runs, which we now are increasing based on the fact we’ve exceeded our initial estimates. We can then calculate which run a particular order would be in, when we will make that next set of Librem 5s, and be able to estimate when a particular Librem 5 will ship. We also factor in and plan for events like Chinese New Year, which cause essentially everything in China to shut down for a few weeks.
One downside to using Just In Time manufacturing is that you must factor in all of the different lead times for all the different individual components that go into the Librem 5. While some components have relatively short lead times, others sometimes have lead times extending out multiple months. You have to factor all of this in to ensure that everything is ordered in advance so that it arrives just when you need it.
If you talk to anyone in manufacturing they will tell you that this has been a particularly challenging year for the supply chain. Whether you are talking about toilet paper, N95 masks, rubber gloves, or semiconductors, the global pandemic has made supply chains less reliable, and lead times and shipping times incredibly unpredictable. It’s left everyone in the industry scrambling from source A to B to C down to Z sometimes to find inventory. It even added a delay a few months back to our Librem 14 timeline due to Intel having trouble fulfilling all of their CPU orders.
Our customers have told us they want ever more information on what happens behind the scenes of making a phone like the Librem 5, so in the interest of transparency we are sharing what we’ve been hearing from our own suppliers. The iMX-8 processor we use in our Librem 5 is also popular in the automotive industry, and currently NXP has been hit with a global semiconductor shortage due to a dramatic increase in demand from auto makers.
This shortage has increased the lead times for CPU orders, which is of course a critical component in the Librem 5. As we started getting word about this shortage we were proactive in sourcing and purchasing all the CPUs we can, and continue to do so, while also factoring these increased lead times into future orders.
What does this mean for you? Based on our efforts thus far there’s a good chance it will not affect your shipping time as we continue to track down new CPU supplies and plan for future manufacturing runs. So far it hasn’t caused a delay.
However we wanted to let everyone know about this potential issue far in advance, because it will impact how many people get shipping estimates. We only want to send shipping estimates when we know for sure we have the CPUs to fulfill them, so this week instead of sending estimates to everyone like we had planned, we are only sending estimates out up to the point we have CPUs that will arrive just in time. This happens to coincide with all the orders placed through October 2017–the end of our original crowdfunding campaign.
As we secure more CPU supply, and feel confident about the supply chain for future manufacturing runs we will send out additional shipping estimates. Hopefully soon we will be able to account for the whole backlog and can calculate when we hit shipping parity.
We’ve also gotten some questions about the various hardware certifications for the Librem 5 including Respect Your Freedom (RYF), FCC and CE. While we designed the Librem 5 to qualify for each of these certifications, we had to wait to start the certification processes until we had the final mass-produced “Evergreen” Librem 5 since changes in the hardware would require re-certification.
Each of these certification processes are under way. While the transmitters in the Librem 5 (the removable cellular modem and WiFi card) already have FCC and CE certification, we are seeking certification for device as a whole. We are still in the middle of these time-consuming certification processes and will post an update to our site when there is any news on any of these fronts.
We want you to have your Librem 5 as soon as possible and appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to process orders and get through our backlog. It’s everyone’s support through this monumental process that has made the Librem 5 a reality.