In the security industry, we use the term “Black Box” to describe a specialized device which performs a unique or custom process. You would resort to a black box when no one manufactures what you need for a project.
Generally using a black box is not first choice because it is not a readily available off the shelf-type product, so it is probably costly in the first place, and if it fails, you will have issues repairing/replacing it.
Back in the day, every project was a black box, because besides the military (who used lots of black boxes, no one was manufacturing much access control equipment. Typically if you wanted a solution, you had to build your own.
System integrators will speak about the custom software they had to write in order to achieve some feature for a client. Integrators used to call the factory with exotic requirements for a special client. We used to tell our clients that if we didn’t have a particular feature available, it was because it was a bad idea, and they didn’t want to do it. Of course if they wanted something clever and we thought if we designed it we could catalog it and possibly sell more in the future, I would invest the time and engineer one for that client and then it would show up in the next catalog as a new option. Even now, you will still find the need to combine components in order to achieve a specific functionality.
Where door control and annunciation are concerned, building blocks can be combined to achieve some dramatic results. The design objectives are to economically build a reliable solution which the end-user will be able to easily operate and understand. If they can’t understand it, they won’t even use it. People do not like devices which intimidate them or make them feel inept.
I find that often pre-manufactured equipment will offer too many features, consequently forcing the price up. These are things the customer doesn’t want, and these gizmos are hard for the end-user to understand on top of everything else.
Building black boxes requires components to put in it. I’ve put together a collection of some I’ve used on recent projects and I will explain why I like them and how they work.
STI-USA makes the polycarbonate covers which you see everywhere protecting fire pull stations from little hands connected to childish minds. They discourage school children and vandals from setting off false alarms.
For a recent nursing home project which I described briefly in the December issue, the Fire Marshal insisted that there be emergency buttons next to each locked exit door. The nursing home director felt certain that patients might inadvertently bump into or otherwise trigger these buttons unless they were protected. So we specified The STI-USA UB-1 pushbutton along with their #6500 Mini Stopper® without Horn Flush Mount polycarbonate cover.
STI’s Universal Button UB-1 offers an astounding 240 different combinations for the price of a standard one-configuration button. The faceplate is constructed of cast aluminum, allowing it to take tough knocks in stride, and is slightly oversized to cover old plate installation marks. Button package includes: faceplate, three illuminated push buttons, four interchangeable button messages and ten interchangeable activation messages.
I explained the possible combinations to my customer and knew it would take numerous meetings and emails before the several layers of managers involved would be able to decide on the correct colors and wording.
The UB-1 has a heavy duty DPDT switch and two separate LEDS, so it offered some options for how I could design it into the system. I decided one LED would serve as a locator (help the nurses find it in an emergency situation) and power on indicator, and the LED in the button would signal an alarm.
UB-1 features include:
The Altronix Model 6062 programmable timer is suitable for many functions that require a timed operation, e.g. access control applications.