The Transformation From Mechanical To Wireless Communicating Locks

March 3, 2010
Wireless communication means no wires to transfer the information to a personal computer or to another lock.

If we take the time to see the transformation of door locks from the mechanical key operated, to electrified locksets, to standalone battery operated locks and finally to networked battery operated locks, we can get a better understanding of how each of the locks operate, their features and conveniences. A number of these features have created significant opportunities for controlling access. Many have become required standards for end-users including audit trail and time-date capabilities.

Locksmiths have installed, keyed and serviced mechanical cylindrical and mortise locks that include the Kwikset 400BDL, National E-Z Set, Sargent 8 Line and 8100 Series, Schlage D/ND Series and K/L Series, and Weiser A500 Series. These residential and commercial grade cylindrical locks could be rekeyed by removing the knob, pull the tail shaft and rotate plug, or popping out the cylinder assembly to name three of the more common lock cylinder removal methods. We learned how to service these and other locks and even had to read the instructions on a few of them.

Mechanical locks have basic locking methods. A key is required to unlock the lock. Some locks require a key to lock them. Over time, master keying techniques expanded and provided greater opportunities for controlling physical access. In addition, clever locksmiths and lock manufacturers developed different types of locks and keys to further control access. These included double cylinder lock cylinders, key trap lock cylinders, one way lock cylinders, construction keys and specific applications for mortise and cylindrical locks. However, someone still had to insert the proper key into the lock in order to gain access.

The first electronic access control devices were introduced in the 1980s. Mortise locks were electrified using electromechanical solenoids to power the latch mechanism by aftermarket re-manufacturers such as Architectural Control Systems Inc., Command Access, Marray and the lock manufacturers themselves. To operate these locks, an external power source, a switch and wiring were required. The switch in some of the early installations was a doorbell button and the power supply a simple transformer.

These early electrified locks provided the end users with a method to remotely control access. The front door could remain locked and someone did not have to physically go to the door in order to provide access. The person, sometimes a receptionist or secretary, would have to press a momentary button to temporarily unlock the lock. Some of the early installations were jewelers, travel agents and businesses in questionable neighborhoods.

Over time, the current draw and the size of the electromechanical solenoids improved. As solenoids became small enough, cylindrical locks became available electrified. Electrified locks are available with Fail Safe and/or Fail Secure electromechanical solenoids.

This choice determines the condition of the lock mechanism. A Fail Safe operation electromechanical solenoid unlocks the door lock and a Fail Secure operation solenoid keeps the door locked when power is turned off. More important are the door monitoring capabilities, which include REX (Request to Exit), latch and deadbolt monitoring, lock cylinder monitoring and door position monitoring capabilities. The features depend upon the lock manufacturer and the model.

The first standalone (without wires) battery operated electromechanical lock was introduced in the late 1980s with a number of other lock manufacturers introducing their models. The inclusion of a circuit board-equipped lock provided many new ways to control access. These battery operated locks did not require any external wiring, external power source or multiple components for installation.

Over the years, a number of different function standalone, battery operated electromechanical locks have been developed. In addition to the cylindrical, mortise and exit device application, companies such as Adams Rite, Sargent and others have introduced their version of the narrow and medium stile aluminum/glass door compatible locks that are designed to operate the Adams Rite style of deadbolts and deadlatches.

The advantage of the standalone, battery operated electromechanical lock was having all of the components in one unit. Battery power eliminated the need for wiring. Standalone eliminated compatibility issues and technical support problems as well as warranty issues. If there is a question or problem with a standalone lock, only one telephone number needs to be called to the lock manufacturer for technical support.

The cost to purchase a standalone electromechanical lock was and is usually more than the cost of individual wired components. However, the installation is significantly less expensive. This left the choice of wired versus standalone to the “construction of the building,” the locksmith or the end-user. “Construction of the building” refers to if the walls or jambs were concrete filled, resulting in a very difficult and time consuming job of properly running wires.

Standalone, battery operated electromechanical locks can provide features including:

Hierarchy systems (Master, Submaster, Supervisor, User, Service Code, etc.)

User Code Groups

Hundreds or thousands of User Codes

Time/date methods for controlling access

Lock down (Supervisor code access or no code access)


Passage mode – unlocked

Downloadable audit trail (lock history)

Ability to identify when override key was used

Credentials - Keypad, magstripe, proximity, SmartCard, etc.

Touch pad versus keypad

Battery condition indicator

Anti-tamper – three incorrect code and the lock shuts down for a period of time

Standalone locks require someone to go to each lock to determine lock condition, battery strength, to retrieve the audit trails or to make programming changes. Programming changes can be accomplished by having a person download (data transfer tools) or physically program changes at each of the locks. Programming at the lock normally requires the lock to be equipped with a keypad or a port to which a computer or tool can be connected. Programming and checking multiple locks can be time consuming.

However, the upside is the ability to control access by limiting users to specific time ranges and days. If the lock has a built in holiday calendar, it is possible that no programming is required to lock out users on weekends and specific holidays.

To provide more universal options, standalone locks are available to be installed onto narrow stile aluminum/glass doors, as well as be installed onto wood and metal door using cylindrical locks, mortise locks and exit devices. Some lock manufacturers including Alarm Lock offer double-sided locks that are commonly installed onto gates to control access.


During the 2000s, wireless communication became an available feature for standalone, battery operated electromechanical locks. Wireless communication means no wires to transfer the information to a personal computer or to another lock. There are many different methods of wireless communication and the different software programs that operate them.

Most network-capable standalone, battery operated electromechanical locks use an access point, a gateway. A gateway is a node (wireless router) that serves as an access point to another network. For these locks, a gateway wirelessly connects the lock to the personal computer. Depending upon the lock’s manufacturer, the gateway can be wireless or wired to the personal computer.

One important feature of the newer standalone and networked electromechanical locks is the increased memory. This enables the locks to have thousands of users, larger audit trail capabilities and more defined access control limitations. This memory capability also provides some lock manufacturers products to have lock programming, user-data and use information stored in the locks themselves to be able to have uninterrupted access control should there be a power out for the personal computer.

When a system has been installed, the computer through the gateway and the locks transmit and receive information including adding or removing user codes, time/date changes, determining battery condition, lockdown or passage mode, etc. Just about everything that can be accomplished at the lock itself.

For example, a new employee proximity identification card can be swiped at the computer and programmed into the system. The proximity card is handed to the employee who can gain access at each authorized door during the appropriate times. All of this can be done without having to go out to any of the locks.

Some electromechanical lock manufacturers offer upgrade paths for their products. Schlage AD Series Electromechanical Locks are designed to be upgraded. The credential reader and the communication module can be changed out.

For example, a company just starting out does not have need for multiple credentials, just standalone electromechanical locks. The AD Series locks purchased have just a keypad. Over time, they grow and want to institute employee badges using emerging technologies and wireless communications. The keypad reader can be changed out to a proximity or SmartCard credential. The communication module can be changed out to a hardwired or wireless communication module.

Over the years, lock manufacturers have developed specialty applications for some of the wireless communications battery operated locks. Persona locks are appearing on college campuses and housing. Persona technology is available through the Assa Abloy Group companies. Another specialty application is the Kaba-Ilco Oracode system. The standalone, battery powered Oracode is keyless and cardless. An electronic PIN based keypad equipped lock grants access through a time sensitive code. This web based software operated lock can be programmed to grant access from anywhere in the world. The end-user enters the PIN to gain access for a limited time frame. Once the time has expired, the PIN can no longer gain access.

Some standalone, battery powered electromechanical wireless communication lock manufacturers use proprietary software, which does not allow competitors’ products to be introduced to network. Other lock manufacturers including Sargent and Schlage have open architecture systems that permit the locksmith or the end-user to choose the 3rd party software and controllers.

Programming complexity varies from lock manufacturer to lock manufacturer. For existing Trilogy installations, standalone and Trilogy Networx locks can share a common database using the later versions of the Alarm Lock DL-Windows software.

The development of electromechanical locks provides greater opportunities to sell your customers on higher levels of access control with simplified installations. Many of these locks install into standard door prep. Some do not even require large cross bore opening that would affect a fire rated opening. Most lock manufacturers offer training for locksmiths.

To view additional Locksmith Ledger articles on wireless locks, visit visit Web Site: www.