Benefits Of Electromechanical Locks For Controlling Access

April 8, 2011

Controlling access is part of everyday life. People cannot go everywhere and do everything. As a society, we control access in many different ways - physically, mechanically and electromechanically.

Physical access control has been used for many thousands of years. A wall, a locked door and a moat are examples of physically restricting access.

When we physically restrict entry, we must also provide a practical way to gain access. A modern example of physical access control is the doorman in front of a building. The doorman’s job is to provide entry to those who are authorized. The other part of the job involves keeping out those who should not enter. The doorman knows or determines who does and does not gain access. The doorman must be at the door either during business hours or whenever access may be required.

Mechanical Locks

A less expensive form of controlling access is a mechanical lock that performs a similar, however, simpler and less distinguishable method of controlling access. Only the keys with the correct bittings (assuming the lock has been master keyed) are able to unlock the lock mechanism. The mechanical lock mechanism is not able to determine who or how many people desire or gain access or if the door is left unsecured. In this situation, the mechanical lock offers an all or nothing choice.

An inherent problem with mechanical locks is the ability to give the key to someone else or possibly duplicate the key. High security lock manufacturers offer patent protection for their locks and keys that limit the ability of someone creating a key.

In addition, most mechanical locks can be manipulated and some can be bypassed surreptitiously, leaving no evidence of the unauthorized entry.

Most mechanical locks only require one credential to gain access. The key. There are locks and applications, such as vault door that require two persons, each with a different key or code to be entered in order to gain access. Multiple padlocks using a safety lockout hasp can require up to six padlocks be unlocked and removed in order to gain access.

Locksmiths can electrify a mechanical lock to provide remote access. For example, a receptionist can press a momentary button that unlocks the door locking mechanism, providing access.

We can add a switch to a mechanical mortise lock that activates when a proper key is inserted and rotated retracting the latch bolt.  The switch can be used to activate a video camera, shunt an alarm, etc. Depending upon how the switch is wired, it can control the operation of more than one function.

Electromechanical options

To gain more ways to control and restrict access, we take an electrified lock and add electronics, expanding the capabilities. Probably the first advantage of an electromechanical lock is the choice of electronic credentials. These include a keypad and codes, electronic cards including magstripe, proximity and smart cards, and biometrics including fingerprint, facial characteristics and retina scans. The more exotic the lock's technology, the more expensive the lock. However, not every facility requires networked locks, biometrics or smart card technology.

An advantage of electromechanical locks is employees, especially maintenance and security personnel, no longer have to carry rings of keys for access.

Mechanical override is an important consideration. If the electronics stop functioning, a mechanical override can be a lifesaver. On the other hand, mechanical override is not monitored on some electromechanical locks, permitting someone to use a key in order to gain access at anytime without a record.

Requiring more than one credential can provide a higher level of security. However, just like unauthorized persons learning methods to bypass mechanical locks, there are people and products that can bypass some of the electromechanical lock technologies. This is another reason for having dual or even triple credentials and adding CCTV for the purpose of making sure the persons who gain access are those who should gain access.

Some electromechanical locks keep a record of which users have gained access and which have been refused access.

Add time and date to an electromechanical lock and you can limit access for one, many or all to specific dates and times. You can know when each unique user gains access (and if desired egress), at what day and time. Some electromechanical locks provide dual purposes to control access and to be a time clock to know exactly when persons arrive. Some electromechanical locks and operating software enable companies to determine the time and attendance of personnel.

An electromechanical lock can be programmed so that when one or more specific users gain entrance, the lock is unlocked for a set period of time. When the same or a different user presents their credential to the lock at the end of the shift, the lock relocks, limiting authorized access.

Electromechanical locks can be master keyed (programmed) to operate all of the locks each user requires in order to do their jobs. If the locks are networked, the programming is at a central computer. If not networked, each lock must be programmed for each user.

An advantage and disadvantage for locksmiths is that most electromechanical locks do not need to change the mechanical key bittings each time someone’s employment is terminated. If the lock is networked to a computer, the user can be deleted with a few keystrokes and a new user added. This lowers the facility’s exposure, adding an additional level of security.

Many electromechanical locks can be customized for each employee’s individual access needs. Electronic access control provides the ability to set user-level access rights from the number of doors that can be access at specific times. Having this ability eliminates the need to provide more access than necessary. This can be accomplished by having more electronically accessible locks.

Electromechanical locks can provide remote access as well as one-time user codes for a single use by an authorized individual. A one-time user code is designed for single access and can be programmed to expire if the code has not been entered with a specified period of time. In addition, having single use codes just about eliminates an outside vendor providing his or her code to an unauthorized individual, as then they can no longer gain access. Plus the vendor can be monitored as to when he arrived and left by requiring access in and access out. Plus a one-time code can be reloaded as necessary.

With available technology, a smart phone can be used to receive notification of unauthorized attempted access, view video, and when specific individuals gain access. At some point in time, a smart phone will eventually permit remote monitoring programming via the Internet.

An advantage and disadvantage of electromechanical locks is no parts are necessary in order to program or delete user codes. The advantage is there’s no need to stop at a distributor or the office in order to pick up parts or a keying kit. The disadvantage is that mechanical locks are usually easier to make repairs and less expensive to replace.

Many electromechanical locks are designed for field troubleshooting, but are not designed for field repair. They may require replacement instead of repair.

Networked electromechanical locks

Networked electromechanical locks are available hardwired and wireless with wireless locks operating in conjunction with electronic gateways or access points.

For example, there are hotel electromechanical locks that work in conjunction with the check-in desk to change the code, turn off electronics when the customer has checked out and to turn on lights when someone checks in at night. These are just a few of the capabilities.

For remote location rentals, a landlord can install an electromechanical lock that accommodates a specific code provided to the renter beginning on a specific day and time and expiring at a specific time on a specific date. This way, only the authorized renter can gain access. No human required or keys to retrieve.

For multi-family buildings, the installation of electromechanical locks on the exterior doors provides additional security by better controlling access and requiring a more restricted code. In addition, some electromechanical locks can monitor the position of the door. If the door is not closed and secured, the lock can notify this condition. 

For a residence, an electromechanical lock can unlock a door remotely using a telephone. The homeowner can unlock the door remotely for a family member who forgot their key or an a contractor needing access.

Residential electromechanical deadbolt locks can enable the bolt to be thrown without having to insert the key. Some are designed to operate with specially adapted appliances, for example lights, thermostats and video cameras, to monitor, save money and provide a safer entry.