Sharp is using its TV production lines to make face masks instead

(Image credit: Sharp)

Sharp is usually known for making hardware such as soundbars and televisions, but the Japanese electronics brand is moving into a new area: medical face masks.

As reported by the BBC, Sharp is leveraging one of its TV factories to meet the huge surge in demand for face masks among members of the public, amid fears over the coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China – but has since reached multiple nations around the globe.

Face masks are much more of a common sight in South East Asia than in Western countries, and Japan’s domestic supplies of surgical masks are already running low. We’d already seen Foxconn – Sharp’s parent company – start to manufacture its own face masks for workers on iPhone production lines, so it’s not overly surprising for the practice to extend to Sharp. 

However, the move shows increasing concern from manufacturers, who are now having to decrease their overall production capacity in order to supply face masks to their own workers – given the scarcity of the masks elsewhere. 

This could well affect supply for Sharp televisions around the globe, given how many LCD televisions that one factory tends to churn out each month – though we imagine the company is looking to minimize that impact and reallocate sales units wherever possible.

Business as usual?

Sharp’s co-opted factory is reportedly capable of outputting 150,000 face masks per day, with production beginning within the next few weeks – once the factory has been readied for its new products. This could rise to 500,000 a day, though questions remain over the efficacy of such masks in preventing the spread of infection.

Basic surgical masks aren’t adept at keeping out smaller airborne particles, especially compared to more advanced (and expensive) N95 respirator masks – but it’s the former that’s being manufactured at this scale.

Coronavirus fears have already led to the cancellation of MWC 2020, Google IO, and the pivoting of GDC 2020 to an online-only event – while E3 2020 may well be next on the list.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.