Convergence in the Locking Space: High-End Architectural Locks Meet High-Tech Access Control

Sept. 2, 2014

History tells us that the earth’s first locks originated some 6000 years ago in ancient Egypt. They were made of wood and unfortunately were easily compromised with a good torch. In addition to providing a poor level of security, ancient locks were not what we would consider, by today’s standards, “architecturally pleasing.”

During the ensuing 6000 years, the locking industry spent much of its effort making locks more and more secure, as well as virtual works of art. The current-day, state-of-the art lock now comes in ultra-high security formats and hundreds of different, attractive designs, as well as dozens and dozens of finishes. Designers and architects can outfit and building with a fully customized look that would please even the most demanding client. The only limitation that all of these basic locking forms possess, is that they primarily all operate with a key.

Sometime in the 1960’s, electronic access control systems came into existence and this enabled users to gain access through doors without the use of keys. These systems provided great savings in re-keying expense and provided greater control of access to facilities, since authorization of access levels was now controlled centrally. Administrators gained the capability of instantly granting customized access of facilities to new users, or denying access to a user or whole access group, by making a change at the system. There was no longer any need to keep track of keys and if an employee was terminated without securing keys in their possession, no extensive re-keying of locks was necessary.

An evolution of credentials also took place from the early days of electronic access control until today. The advent of these systems saw the use of PIN codes to identify the user. This had its drawbacks, in that confidentiality of codes  could be easily compromised. Then came magnetic swipe cards, which contained a unique, identification data string, which was read by the magnetic stripe reader. Finally, in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) cards were commercialized. These cards, commonly referred to as “proximity cards” are contactless and provide high levels of security and encryption to accurately identify the user. These cards are presented to a proximity reader, which is typically placed on the wall next to the door to which it controls access. This proximity reader is connected to an intelligent control panel which is programmed using access control software, typically run on a workstation computer.

This latest, state-of-the-art level of enterprise-class, electronic access control technology has many advantages over traditional locking systems. Systems in this class contain a database of users with different access levels. Access can also be controlled according to certain schedules or based on certain events. For example, a user could be granted access at 8 a.m at the start of the work day, but not after hours.

Today’s access control systems provide real-time information, which can be monitored by security personnel. They can tell if doors are left ajar, if access is being requested by an unauthorized user or simply view video of access events.

Although electronic access control has many advantages, its few drawbacks are that it remains relatively expensive in hardware costs per access point/door or opening. These systems also entail wiring maglocks or strikes to the doors, from the controllers, which is labor-intensive and costly. Lastly, typically, the locking hardware utilized in access control points is not really integrated as part of the security of the system. In these applications, the locks separately provide independent locking and play a relatively “dumb” role, as mere slaves to the security of the system.

The exciting, new generation of wireless, enterprise-class access control locking systems has taken the best of each product space, providing architecturally pleasing, wireless, proximity locks within a networked, enterprise software-driven backbone, smartly fused together. This better satisfies every installation need, from high-rise multi-dwelling residential, to business offices, campuses and schools, etc., in providing the highest security access control available, paired with thousands of hardware design options.

As an example, with the new ArchiTech® Networx™ Designer Wireless Access Control Platform, we start out with a wireless locking system, based on familiar, field-proven Trilogy Networx electronics, but the face of ArchiTech is an all new designer aesthetic-look, combining a choice of 300+ Grade 1 architectural trim, lever and knob designs, in a wide variety of finishes, plus two ultralow-profile proximity readers. Wirelessly installed on any door in cylindrical or mortise formats, for new or retrofit applications, they are self-powered with off-the-shelf batteries and still provide up to 4 years of use, with their advanced Power-Saver circuit.

The wireless, electronic, access controller is mounted on the door via either a back box, on the secured side of the door or by using a mortise pocket controller which uniquely contains all electronics within the door, giving a clean, designer look to the installation. The access controller unit contains a wireless transceiver, which provides two-way, encrypted communication to a gateway unit, up to 100 feet away. That gateway then can be plugged into the network via POE, WiFi (802.11) or Ethernet. The real-time software on the network then can control virtually an unlimited number of users on the system and  thousands of doors.

The wireless locks are centrally connected to the network – This enables the administrator or security officer the ability to monitor real-time lock and door status information. Low battery conditions, access granted/denied, unauthorized attempts at access and even when a door has been left ajar, utilizing the integrated door position switch, are is all events supervised and documented by the system centrally. The access control software even integrates with other systems, such as video cameras, to be able to look in and garner real-time or recorded footage of an access event.

Programming of the locks as well as uploads of relevant information are possible from the comfort of a centralized computer workstation -  Adding or deleting users, programming schedules/events, uploading and monitoring of audit trail information and more, is all possible without going to the lock on the door.

When ArchiTech is integrated with the CA3000 enterprise class software, the system can accommodate over 15,000 doors and an unlimited number of users and audited events.

Networked and Internet capable - The fact that ArchiTech connects all of its locks to the network, make it so it also has the capability to communicate over the internet. All programming, monitoring and administrative functions can be done from any remote location, via a 256 bit encrypted internet connection. This connection via the network/internet also enables remote operation of all locks, giving the ability to achieve lock-down in seconds, as an example. The benefit of an internet connection to all of the systems wireless locks also enables installers and locking professionals to remotely flash new firmware into the product, giving the ability to add new features after it’s already installed on-site.

Operation via Apps on Android and Apple Smartphone – Utilizing Bluetooth LE, the Architech Wireless Access Control platform enables users to unlock their doors by utilizing an app on their smartphone. This eliminates the need for consumers to carry an additional credential, in addition to a key, to operate their locks.

Fully distributed processing – The advantage of the ArchiTech system over traditional electronic access control, is that the locks are capable of fully distributed processing, whereby the access grant/deny decision is actually made at the lock. This is a huge advantage should the building or facility where it’s installed experience a power failure. If traditional systems don’t have backup power connected to them, the access control system stops operating. In the case of ArchiTech, the locks are battery-powered for up to 4 years, so they keep working, in the event of an AC loss.

Finally, the convergence of the locking arena and electronic access control has yielded a new product category, where everyone, developers, architects, designers, specifiers, locking professional and integrators, get the best of both worlds.

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Jorge Hevia is SVP Sales & Marketing for Napco Security Technologies, comprising, Alarm Lock, Continental Access, Marks USA and Napco.