Robbie and the Flux Blowpipe reach national TV audience

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Robbie MacIsaac, 22, is an alumni of The National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland and recently appeared on the BBC One show, Dragons’ Den, to promote his Flux Blowpipe. Robbie pioneered the product when he was just 14 , a device which could prevent respiratory issues for bagpipers.

Robbie’s invention, which can be used universally with any bagpipe, has been engineered to remove moisture from the instrument by combining the use of temperature, pressure difference and a special absorbent.

The blowpipe prolongs the lifespan of the bagpipes by preventing a build-up of moisture from damaging them, without having any detrimental effect on the sound quality or airflow. Significantly, the device could reduce the risk of Piper’s Lung disease, also known as Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, caused when the lungs are exposed to moisture and fungi living in the instrument.

Since leaving school he’s gone on to grow FLUX Solutions to become a business that has generated over £85,000, with increased interest and custom from the US, Canada, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand complementing sales in the UK.

Robbie believes the international interest in his high-tech kit demonstrates an appetite for bagpipes and innovation in the sector beyond Scotland’s borders.

Speaking after his recent appearance on Dragons’ Den, Robbie said: “We have sold over 500 FLUX Blowpipes and had enquiries coming in from across the world.

•Robbie presenting his product in the Dragons’ Den.

“Although now our biggest market is in Scotland and the UK, the business we’ve received from abroad is a reminder that throughout their long history, bagpipes have travelled to every corner of the globe.

“There are over 140,000 competitive bagpipers worldwide, with research suggesting the greatest portion is in North America alone.

“To give another example of their global appeal, there were 146 bands taking part at last year’s World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, coming from the likes of Argentina, Austria, Australia and Israel to compete.

“When you also take into consideration the number of people who play the pipes on a non-competitive basis – at weddings or parades in particular – the opportunity for the Scottish bagpipe sector to succeed overseas is huge, and an opportunity I think is still largely untapped.

“I first started playing the bagpipes when I was nine years old and learned through school. I ended up playing competitively and was honoured to be chosen to close out the main stage after the Red Hot Chilli Peppers at T in the Park in 2016, which turned out to be the last ever festival.

“At school, I developed an interest in engineering where I won some credibility and recognition through various competitions, and ever since I’ve been trying to combine my experience and skills with my passion for the bagpipes.

“Although bagpipes have existed for hundreds of years, there’s always room for improvement, to ultimately make the instrument more accessible, easier to manage and appealing to play.

“I’m constantly pushing to invent new products that challenge the ordinary and bring them to the bagpipe community.”

Robbie works closely with the renowned McCallum Bagpipes business, who manufacture Highland Bagpipes in their factory in Kilmarnock before many of their instruments are then shipped across the world. They also manufacture FLUX Solutions products – including the blowpipe – and say new technology is always welcomed within the sector.

Kenny MacLeod, managing sales director and co-founder of McCallum Bagpipes, commented: “Robbie has identified a problem that we’ve had for decades regarding moisture entering the pipe bag and making the instrument unstable. He has invented a blowpipe which stops most of the moisture getting into the bag, a huge benefit to pipers worldwide.

“Bagpipes are crying out to be updated and modernised with some new innovations. The bagpipes have a sound that can really touch your inner soul, but we need inventors like Robbie to make getting that sound easier and more efficient.

“Robbie’s enthusiasm for the project is also inspiring and great to see, at his young age the future is looking very bright for him. He’s also a super nice and friendly guy as well, an important asset in today’s business environment.”

Robbie has been keen to share his experiences and knowledge gained with like-minded Scots who are looking to start their own companies at an early age.

The 22-year-old who lives in Glasgow, but is from Falkirk,  gained essential guidance and funding from the RBS Accelerator programme and the University of Strathclyde Entrepreneurial Development Scheme. 

Reflecting on his success so far, Robbie says the best piece of advice he can pass on to others is ‘have a strong support network’.

He said: “It’s important not to strive for perfection. Business, the market, your challenges can change daily, and you need to put yourself in a position to be always flexible and adaptable.

“For me, the most important thing I’ve learned is – especially when you’re young – use as many people as you can to help. There are some great people out there who were once in your shoes, so don’t be shy in asking for a favour.

“Be yourself, don’t care about what others say if you’re taking a different path, and crucially – be a nice guy. Ultimately, that’s how you’ll get the rewards.”

To find out more about the FLUX Blowpipe and other products, visit the FLUX Solutions website here.

  • While still a schoolboy, Robbie was named the UK’s Most Innovative Young Engineer by the Manufacturing Technologies Association by winning the Technology Design Innovation challenge, and in 2019 he became a Scottish Wild Card Edge winner, following up with further success a year later when he won the Scottish Young Edge prize, securing five-figure funding as a reward. He was also a finalist at the Business Insider Made In Scotland Awards 2020.