Making the Move to Electronic Access Control

Jan. 2, 2018
Jump on board access control now to increase your local market share and your income

The need for access control has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two to three decades. Every study performed in recent years indicate that this trend will continue to accelerate for the foreseeable future. For example, according to a study performed by of Seattle, WA., by 2023, the access market in the United States is predicted to reach $10 billion.  

“In the commercial vertical, various commercial areas, such as enterprises and data centers, banks and financial centers, hotels, retail stores and malls, and entertainment areas, are considered. Protecting the infrastructure and assets from threats such as accidents, vandalism, theft, sabotage, and terrorism is a major concern for the commercial vertical. These security issues increase the demand for access control systems and solutions for this vertical” (Access Control Market worth 10.03 Billion USD by 2023, MarketsandMarkets,

One thing is for sure. The use of automated access control will continue to erode market share for traditional mechanical locks. Those who jump on board access control now are sure to increase their local market share which translates into more money at the end of the day, which is almost essential when it comes to creating a comfortable, sustainable retirement.

In this Locksmith Ledger article, we’ll cover the basics behind a typical commercial access control system. We’ll provide you with a thorough picture of how access control hardware, door controllers (often referred to as a “controller” in this article), and central host computers fit together; and we’ll provide you with a list of manufacturers to contact for more information.

Many Flavors of Access Control

There are all kinds of access control systems on the market today. Some of them are designed to directly interact with electrified mortise cylinder locks as well as traditional electric-powered cylindrical locks. Others are designed to work with electric bolts, traditional door strikes, and electromagnetic locks of all kinds. In a retrofit situation, the choice as to what to use is usually the locksmith’s where in new work this decision is often made for you by an electrical engineer, architect, or a professional engineer.

There also are other devices that you need to know about, such as REX (Request to Exit) buttons, egress motion detectors, REX exit bars, power supplies, card readers, key fobs, radio transmitters, and many more. It’s your job, as the installation professional on the job, to understand how they work, the details related to their installation and long-term care, as well as the various fire codes that must be observed when installing them. The good thing is that there is so much conformity in the access control silo that almost any type of reader will work with almost any access control system.

“Most of the access control systems on the market will work with almost anyone’s electronic PIN/Prox lockset or conventional card reader. Any electronic reader that specifies Z-wave or ZigBee also will work with most anyone’s alarm panel, such as Napco, 2Gig, DMP, and many others,” says Mike Steffancin, inside security sales consultant with Security Source, a security and fire/life-safety equipment distribution firm in Parma, Ohio. “This is because almost all of them use what is called the ‘Wiegand protocol.’ If the specifications says 26-bit up to 40-bit Wiegand, it will work with almost anyone’s access control system.”

REX buttons or REX exit bars are simply devices that you mount inside a door for the purpose of rapid, instinctive egress. You press them, the electrical circuit to the electric lock is disrupted, thus causing the door to unlock so someone can pass through. An egress motion also is an extremely important device designed to give a approaching occupant unlimited, unimpeded egress as he or she approaches the door. In this case, instead of manually pressing a button or exit bar on the door, egress is automatic and immediate. This arrangement is the result of fire code (see sidebar on page XX).

In terms of locking devices, as a locksmith you have likely encountered most of the electric locking devices that you’ll be called upon to implement. We’ll discuss each electrified lock in more detail in future Locksmith Ledger articles. In this issue, however, we’ll discuss the electronic side of the coin.

Wireless or Hardwired

Access control hardware can be purchased that uses radio waves to carry information back and forth between access devices. Examples include wireless lock cylinders or electronic locksets that come with a local door controller or a simple wireless access point that enables communication with a central host computer at the head-end. This includes other systems in the structure as part of an IoT (Internet of Things)-connected/integrated system (we’ll talk about the IoT connection in another article).

Perhaps the best place to start is with electronic PIN/Proximity locksets. However, it’s important to sell and install networkable units even when using them in standalone mode. This will assure the possibility of upgrading your clients by connecting them to a network. Some use wireless while others use metallic cable.

“There are lots of ways for locksmiths to get involved in access control one of which is to work with standalone electronic PIN/Proximity locks, like the 212LS Electronic Access Control Cylindrical Lockset from Nortek Security & Control located in Carlsbad, California. It’s essentially a standard IEI212 with a lockset on it. Simple keypad with 120 users,” says Steffancin.

In new construction, as mentioned in the previous section, these kinds of decisions are usually made for you by the individual(s) that provides the specifications that defines the job. In this case you’ll usually know the equipment requirements long before you begin an installation because you’ll have won the contract through the bidding process. In most cases, the specification will call for a networkable solution where the readers or PIN/Prox locksets connect to a centralized headend where the client can handle the daily programming of their system.

“The next step is to use a product like Alarm Lock’s Networx Cylindrical PIN/Prox Lock. This one will accommodate 5000 users and allow for the flexibility of hardwired, wireless and network applications,” says Steffancin ( Assa Abloy, Schlagle, Yale, Master, Kwikset, Arrow, and others have similar products.

Depending on the size of the building, wireless may work well. Where size is an issue, the wireless system employed must also offer wireless (radio) receivers or repeaters. Some wireless access control systems, like STANLEY’s active shooter system, called Shelter, features a capacity of as many as eight repeaters. Each line of wireless will provide you with all the devices available, so choosing the right system for the job is not going to be that difficult. This is especially true since your local access control hardware distributor will likely be able to assist you from equipment selection to costing.

Choices do exist for the locksmith to make, especially in retrofit situations where you’re asked to replace an existing access control system or you’re expected to install a new one in an existing facility. It’s this retrofit scenario that the remainder of this article will deal with.

Local Host or Cloud Platform

Another decision involves the use of a local host computer or a cloud-based service. Before we go further, let’s discuss what a “cloud-based” service is. First up, the definition of a “cloud,” in computing and data storage terms, according to Wikipedia, is “Cloud computing is an information technology (IT) paradigm that enables ubiquitous access to shared pools of configurable system resources and higher-level services that can be rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort, often over the Internet. Cloud computing relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economy of scale, similar to a utility” (

In other words, to qualify as a “cloud service,” the third-party that offers this solution allows the account owner to expand or scale down the various technical aspects of data processing and storage on demand as needed. Anything else other than this is simply a remotely located host computer, which is not new.

Local host computers are usually simple desktop units that often are used for dual purposes, such as accounting in addition to access control programming (more about this later). Where the challenge comes in is where the application calls for the use of an off-premise, cloud-based data processing/storage facility.

By contrast, a local access control system contains every bit of hardware on site where the access control system resides. In a cloud-based system, the host computer platform as well as the software are contained offsite at a remote location. Called ACaaS (Access Control as a Service), the service usually requires the use of a bridge device on site to which local card readers and other hardware connects. Cloud-based service also comes at a price, usually paid by both the dealer and subsequently your client (with a profit component built into it).

How to Prep for a Wired System

Prepping for the installation of a wired access control system is not complicated, but you need to know the kinds of wire to install for the various components in them. Our chart provides general direction on the type of cable to use for each of the devices in a traditional hard wired access control system.

There will always be exceptions to the cable chart, and that’s why it’s always wise to read the manufacturer’s installation instructions from front to back before installation begins. Another issue involves the use of network tech so far as what you are likely to encounter.

A good example of this is when the access control system. In this case the cable from the access control Door Controllers should be a Category 5e or 6 cable, which is a UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair) cable. In this case, you will usually receive the help provided by your client’s in-house or outside IT (Information Technology) team. In this case they will probably assist you as  you install the necessary network cable. In fact, when you write up your contract, be sure to add a note that calls for the client’s IT department’s assistance.