Electronic locking systems offer high tech, but on a small scale

Software-driven intelligence provides users with options that were unavailable with previous standalone products
Friday, August 1, 2003

Standalone locking products, powered by electronic components and made more adaptable with built-in software, are bridging the gap between basic lock and key offerings and more sophisticated networked access control systems.

Electronics is at the heart of this trend combining smart systems with standalone locks, said Tom Harris, vice president-product management for YSG Door Security Consultants, Charlotte, N.C. “It’s a complementary trend for the locking business,” he said, adding, “It provides what people need – a higher-value product.”

The addition of software-driven intelligence gives users some options they didn’t have with previous stand-alone products.

Programmability translates into flexibility, noted John Schum, vice president-sales for DynaLock, Bristol, Conn. He said putting sophisticated microprocessors on board a locking system, such as a delayed egress door lock, can allow users to provide critical security and life safety functions while also complying with differing local codes.

The applications that drive these systems “have advanced by leaps and bounds,” commented Mike Groves, vice president at Federal Lock & Safe, Arlington, Va. Whether tied to an existing access control system or used as a standalone product, Groves said the electronics-based systems address the need “for people to know who is coming and going.”

And the fact that the programming is Windows based “makes it very user friendly, very flexible,” Groves said. “People hear that (Windows) and they go ‘Great!’ “

Schum said most installers and end-users, however, don’t need to get involved with programming. “We program the chip here,” he said about the company’s delayed egress electromagnetic lock. “It’s all built into the lock.”

However, Schum added, these locks also have the added possibility of interfacing with a central control panel or computer.

“It can interface with access control or an alarm system,” he said. “But mostly it is standalone use. That’s the beauty of it,” Schum said.

He said one such instance of combining the standalone delayed egress system with CCTV was at the Library of Congress. There, he said, they wanted to be able to begin recording video as soon as someone touched the locking system.

Jeff Koziol, marketing manager for electronic locking systems at IR Security & Safety Electronic Access Control Division, Forestville, Conn., said off-line locking systems are a good access control option “because people don’t have endless amounts of money.”

They can provide “different levels of solutions depending on the needs and budget,” he said.

In addition, they can be integrated into bigger systems when needed.

The limitation of non-integration, he said, is mainly a logistical one. Instead of retrieving the information via computer, “you still have to tour the door for the audit.”

But in a situation with a limited number of doors, said YSG’s Harris, it may be the best, most economical solution.

“Standalone has a niche market. It’s really meant for a smaller system,” he said.

In addition to health care facilities, which Schum said are key users for standalone delayed egress solutions, other industries are also seeing the benefits of programmable systems.

Koziol said what has long worked for the hospitality industry - encoding the key instead of the lock - is now being used in settings such as college dorms and offices.

“Any place you want to try to control the flow of people,” is a good situation for a standalone system, explained Harris, citing drug rooms, IT facilities and many government installations.

While the consensus is that locking systems may not be advancing at the pace of some other sectors in the security market, Koziol said there are still some interesting developments on the horizon.

Wireless, he said, is “a very strong trend.” The advantage here, Koziol noted, “is it takes what people know as an off-line line, but now it interfaces with a network panel.” And you don’t have to worry about various installation processes, he added, “because with wireless everything is contained in the lock.”

He called wireless “a redefinition of the marketplace,” that “mirrors the functionality of traditional hardware” but reduces the labor involved.

The drawbacks to wireless, he said, are distance from the panel and possible interference from building materials or interference with other signals, which can be an issue in a hospital with some devices such as RF signals.

Koziol also said the industry should continue to watch for the combining of standalone locking technology with biometrics. Although he said he wasn’t aware of much work being done by U.S.-based companies, Koziol said he had seen such products with limited biometric capabilities from Korean manufacturers.

The advantage here, he said, is the “key” to the locking system becomes your hand, eye or fingerprint. “I think we’ll see a trend in that direction” with companies “working on refining the mechanics.”

YSG’s Harris said another trend related to electronic locking is the move toward open systems. Software protocol would be built into the lock so it could interface with more systems, he said. As the technology takes off, such advances will proliferate, Harris said.