Think of Sharp and you think of televisions, microwaves and calculators, right? Then think again.
Since winning the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT’s) lucrative biometric passports contract, people around the traps have been scratching their heads, wondering how Sharp Corporation did it.
The $43 million microchip contract, which came into effect on 8 August, 2005, will make Australia one of the first countries to issue e-passports en masse. One of the biggest biometric projects ever embarked on by the Australian Government, it will be keenly monitored by those hoping for a success story from this controversial form of technology – as well as those eager for the opposite.
DFAT anticipates full-scale production of e-passports would be around one million per year. Sharp's IC card for e-passports will be placed in between the passport pages.
It’s a long way from Sharp’s first product launched in Japan in 1912 – the first self-propelling pencil called the “Ever Sharp” (which is how Sharp got its name). Today, they are best known for televisions and other home devices.
But how has Sharp moved from microwaves to microchips?
Every microwave has a microchip, and Sharp can already boast experience in the e-passports arena: the Japanese government awarded its first contracts to Sharp and Toshiba Corporation in March. They will supply a combined three million chip and antenna inlays for Japan’s biometric passports project.
Sharp's e-passport chip differs from the competition in the use of large flash memory and high-speed transmission speed, and in Sharp’s ability to provide large volumes.
Apparently at least one Europe-based vendor who lost out on the Japanese contract questioned how Sharp could be among the low-cost suppliers with such a large chip. Japanese passport officials say despite this, Sharp was among the low-cost vendors.
In recent years, Sharp’s business philosophy has been to use its foundation of proprietary devices and technologies to create one-of-a-kind products. According to Sharp’s President, Katsuhiko Machida, “the single-minded pursuit of one-of-a-kind management is the only road to prosperity.”
As technological innovation increases, companies like Sharp must develop aggressive strategies to capture new markets. With the threat of terrorism looming large, the Australian Government’s project could be just the tip of the iceberg for Sharp.