Who Owns the Master Key System?

State exclusivity initially and in writing within contracts.

The possession of materials that pertain to the customer’s key control can create discord between the customer and the locksmith, especially when those resources are necessary to generate the combination of the keys. Many customers whose business plan requires the management of a large keying...

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When negotiations are deadlocked, I default to representing the customer as the point of contention always involves the customer’s property: keys; cores; and lock cylinders, and the customer’s right to maintain it.

The customer’s right to maintain the system is undisputed, providing prior agreements are not in effect.

The alternative to brokering is reverse-engineering the system and its components. It is surprisingly easy to do this and yields the following results:

The means of generating key combinations is rediscovered and secured for the customer.

Key control records are delivered to the customer in a format that is easier for the customer to understand and assimilate into a singular database.

In the process, all services performed by the locksmith are inspected. Any applied negligence is exposed; deviations from normal keying procedures are reported.

The locksmith can be held liable for all expenses relating to the effort.

Locksmiths intending on exclusive possession of key control records or the means of generating key combinations, should state this initially and in writing within the contract. This way, it is clear who owns what. Locksmiths who establish maintenance guidelines prior to performing services are in the driver’s seat.

What is the means to generate key combinations?

The actual cuts or combination of a key is called the key bitting. A list of all key combinations and key references is called a bitting list. (Figure 1) A matrix of numbers that displays all possible key combinations in a keying system is called a key bitting array. (Figure 2) A bitting list or key bitting array is a means of generating key combinations.

During new construction projects, lock or hardware companies will furnish bitting lists to architect or the customer’s agent. (Figure 3 - view in PDF format) Usually, when more key combinations are needed due to expansion or rekeying, the bitting list can be acquired through the architect or customer’s agent.

When locksmiths are asked to perform rekeying services, they may use bitting lists provided by lock companies or they may use alternative means of generating key combinations. Alternative means are:

  • Proprietary software applications that automatically generate bitting lists while maintaining records of key issuance and lock cylinder assignments.
  • Spreadsheets that derive specific key bitting information based upon a key bitting array.
  • Bitting lists created by the hand of the locksmith.
  • Bitting lists provided by other locksmiths for locksmiths.

Key Records

At the heart of any means to generate key combinations is the key bitting array. Once a group of locks have been keyed to a specific key bitting array, all expansion relating to the system must comply with the parameters included the same key bitting array. By itself the key bitting array cannot reveal how a specific key is cut or a lock cylinder is to be keyed.

Records that identify which key combinations were used to develop keys and build lock cylinders are basic key records. Key records can also include who was issued keys and where lock cylinders were installed.

Sometimes a locksmith will turn over the key records but not the key generating resource. This lets the customer know how locks are rekeyed but doesn’t include how to cut more keys or create new key combinations.

How to recover the cost of time invested

The locksmith who bids on a large keying project faces a lot of competition. Usually the job comes down to charging for service calls, lock cylinders and keys: by the unit, so much for the rekey of a lock cylinder; so much for key cut or originated. This allows the customer to compare apples-to-apples when it comes to deciding who shall be awarded the job.

The time invested in developing a bitting list and basic key records is usually wrapped into the flat-rate cost of rekeying a lock cylinder.

During the process of competing, the locksmith will lower the basic unit cost of rekey of a lock cylinder, which has the effect of discounting the time invested in developing bitting lists.

While a customer can be confused when odd charges appear on the initial estimate, the customer is very familiar with certain kinds of charges.

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