Electromechanical Lock Overview

Oct. 1, 2009
Probably one of the most important features of an electromechanical lock is the capability of controlling access offering a choice of authorization credentials.
The development of the standalone, battery operated electromechanical lock evolved over many years and through interim products. The 1950s saw the first mechanical locks starting to be modified in order to remotely control access. Previously, a person had to insert an operating key into the lock in order to gain entry or someone inside the building had to physically open the door. During this time cylindrical and mortise locks were being equipped with solenoids to provide remote unlocking operation. A person could press a momentary button to power the solenoid and a locked door somewhere else would electrically unlock, permitting the knob or handle to retract the latch bolt. Solenoids require a significant amount of power to operate, requiring these locks to be wired. The first applications for electrified locks were government facilities. The knowledge of these electrified lock began being disseminated and within a number of years, remote unlocking locks were being hand-crafted by progressive locksmiths. This continued into the 1980s, when lock manufacturers begin offering electrified locks as a standard order item. Today, electrified locks are available as Fail Secure and Fail Safe modes with additional features including REX and monitoring capabilities. The first battery operated, self-contained, keypad programmable, electromechanical lock was introduced during the late 1980s offering access control for 250 users, clock (time schedules and holidays) and a hierarchy of users. Since then, electromechanical (EM)  locks continue to develop incorporating new features and capabilities. EM locks are equipped with computerized electronics whose features are above and beyond the capabilities of an electrified mechanical lock. These access control locks are available wired and wireless. The EM lock features vary depending upon the manufacturer and/or the model.

Probably one of the most important features of an electromechanical lock is the capability of controlling access by offering a choice of authorization credentials. These include Keypad User Code, Proximity Card, Biometrics, Magnetic Stripe Card and Smart Card. The keypad user code can usually be programmed for a varying number of characters. In addition, some EM locks can be programmed to require more than one credential. For example, a User Code and a Proximity Card can be required to gain access on some EM locks.
For biometric EM locks, the use of a keypad user code can dramatically shorten the time required to determine authentication of body characteristics, especially when more than a few biometric codes are programmed.
Many EM locks are designed to further restrict access using time/date scheduling (most have the capability to preprogram holidays and Daylight Savings). This further controls access by limiting the time during which users can gain entry. Users can be grouped or have individual time periods during certain days that they can gain access.
Specific programming features including “first in” which change the function of an EM lock to passage mode when specific code(s)/card(s) are entered during a specific time period. The lock can usually be returned to the locked mode at a specific time.
Having individual user credentials (each person has their own credentials) permits the End User to add or delete specific individuals without affecting everyone else. Depending upon the specific EM technology, individual users can be deleted without having to have access to their credentials. This eliminates problems when an employee is terminated.
EM locks can monitor traffic flow through the door by maintaining an audit trail. An audit trail will usually indicate those codes that successfully gained access. In addition, an audit trail can indicate the number of attempted entries that were not successful. An unsuccessful entry can include using a valid code/card at the wrong time, at the wrong door or an invalid code/card.
EM locks can be programmed to shut down for a period of time (usually up to three to five minutes) after a certain number of unsuccessful attempts have been made. This stops an unauthorized person from “fishing” (trying a series of codes in order to gain entry).
Some EM lock can also count the number of attempted and successful entries on a daily, weekly or set time frame to determine how many times the lock is operated. This can be a cost saving benefit when deciding to install an EM lock that is built on a Grade 1 or Grade 2 chassis.
Most electromechanical locks are equipped with mechanical override (keyed cylinder). Some EM locks have the capability to include access gained using the mechanical override in the audit trail. The audit trail will not indicate if the override cylinder was manipulated, just that the door was opened either with a key or without a code.
Depending upon the application, an EM lock can have the ability to perform a security audit or to notify if the door is not closed and/or if the latch is not extended. Having these two capabilities can ensure the door is secured.
This can be accomplished with a door position switch/magnet and a latch sensor. The door position switch is wired into the EM lock, and located along the edge of the door. The magnet is installed into the jamb at a location that aligns with the door position switch when the door is closed and latched. When the door is closed and latched, the magnetic force causes the switch to indicate the door is in the correct position. When the door is opened and if the door remains open, the door position switch will indicate the door is out of position. The lock can send a signal or an alarm to notify the door is not secured.
Many electromechanical locks can retrofit into standard ANSI cutout for either a cylindrical lock, mortise lock or exit device with minimal modification. Important: Make sure if the EM lock is to be installed onto a Fire Rated Door, that it does not have any required additional openings larger than one inch in diameter.

Wireless EM locks do vary in the operating frequency and signal strength (range). An important consideration is that the operating frequency does not interfere with existing wireless devices.
It is important to know the range. How far from a gateway can a wireless EM lock be located? Distance is affected by obstructions in the line of sight.
An advantage of a wireless EM lock is the savings resulting from not having to run power and communications wiring.
The downside is that most wireless locks require batteries in order to operate. Many of the wireless models use six to eight AA batteries. Some locks use proprietary batteries. Replacement cost can be expensive.
Battery life depends upon the manufacturer and the power demands. Most networked EM lock systems have the ability to remotely determine the battery condition of each lock. This eliminates having to replace batteries too early. Some EM locks will notify when the batteries need to be replaced. Make sure to find out how difficult it is to replace the batteries.
An additional advantage is that a power failure does not affect the operation of most “smart” wireless locks. Even if the network goes down, many of the wireless locks will function normally.  All programming, schedules, and audit trail can still be in the EM lock. When the network comes back up, nothing will be lost.
Important: Most EM locks operate using alkaline batteries. Most EM lock manufacturers do not recommend using lithium batteries.
To maintain a reasonable battery life most networked wireless EM locks are in a “sleep” state for much of the time. These locks will wake up in order to perform operations including gaining access. Uploading or downloading information is normally accomplished when the wireless EM lock is in the “awake” state.
On a number of wired systems, a signal can be sent to instantly lock each EM lock. This feature was introduced to improve the level of safety should unauthorized individuals threaten lives. On most wireless EM locks, the locks must be awake in order to receive the signal. One wireless EM lock manufacturer has a patent pending for near instantaneous central lockdown. These EM locks lock down in a matter of seconds even if they are in the “sleep” state.
Another advantage of wireless locks is that diagnosing a problem is usually easier as there are fewer components to examine.

There are advantages for wired EM locks. The cost of the wired EM lock can be less expensive than a wireless EM lock. There can be fewer parts to replace if a wired EM lock ever needs repair. There is no study that I am aware of which determines whether the wired or wireless EM lock has a longer operation life. Wired EM locks are awake continuously as there is continuous power. Wired EM locks can have more features without concern of power consumption. In new construction, the cost of running power and data cabling is significantly less expensive, which can be advantageous for installing wired EM locks.
Depending upon the lock manufacturer, wired or wireless network EM locks are available with proprietary software or “open architecture,” capable of using third party software. Whichever way you decide to go, make sure the software is easy enough for you or the end-user to operate. Difficult software can result in not maintaining the network properly. There are positives points in both directions.
Each manufacturer of wired and wireless EM locks offers their own features and functionalities. Talk with your end user what features they would like in their Electromechanical locks.

A specialized segment of electromechanical locks are for hotels/cruise ships, dormitories, facilities and rental units. Lock manufacturers include Ilco, Persona, VingCard, Onity and Tesa. Talk with the Electromechanical lock manufacturers to determine the features of their specialized locks.

The following is a sampling of electromechanical lock producers and their web sites.
Alarm Lock:  www.alarmlock.com
Arrow: www.arrowlock.com
Codelocks: www.Codelocks.us
Corbin Russwin:  www.corbin-russwin.com
Kaba Access Control: www.kaba-ilco.com
Marks USA: www.marksusa.com
OSI (division of Stanley Works):
SARGENT: www.sargentlock.com
Schlage: http://commercial.schlage.com
Yale: www.yalelocks.com

For a more complete list, go to www.locksmithledger.com to the on-line buyers guide or the 2009 Locksmith Ledger Security Register.