Upgrading from Mechanical To Electronic Access Control

June 4, 2018
Today, complete Electronic Access Control intelligence and communication can fit into an existing commercial lock

Your customer wants to upgrade to Electronic Access Control (EAC). Maybe they like the idea of getting rid of keys and cards, or using fingerprint, iris scan or facial recognition. What should you recommend?

EAC previously required a reader, controller, electrified locking device, power supply, wiring, electrified hinge and core drilling or external RQE sensor. Now, complete Electronic Access Control intelligence and communication can fit into an existing commercial lock.

Continuing improvements in wireless technology are also bringing the new off-line smart locks ever closer to traditional hard-wired online systems. This gives you new options and business opportunities.

Networked, Off-line, or Smart Lock

Networked EAC systems often link multiple doors, with intelligence based in nearby controllers. These controllers frequently report to a host computer via dedicated wiring or network.

Off-line systems generally operate one or a few doors locally, using electrified locking devices, power supplies and associated components, but not connected to a network or host.

Smart locks are standalone and have the intelligence, reader, and power all included in the lock housing. These smart standalone devices currently use cards, PINs, or mobile credentials like your smart phone. Smart locks from commercial brands are now available from your wholesale distributor.

Strike a balance between overconfidence and realism. If you are comfortable with Ohm’s and Watt’s Laws, wiring diagrams, power supplies and wire connection protocols, you will consider the networked or off-line component systems with a wall-mounted reader, power supply, electrified locking device, and even biometric readers. If those are not your strengths, stick with the self-contained battery powered standalone smart locks and avoid the exciting but more technical biometric devices.

Don’t underestimate the time-consuming learning curve for programming and customer training. That said, this is a rewarding process that many of us have found to be fun and profitable.

Here, we’ll examine technology options, look at some new developments, and explore the kinds of questions to ask. Experience tells us that solving the client’s problems builds a solid business with ongoing revenue. There is one critical issue. If you are not sure of the answer, tell the customer you’ll find out. Honesty and humility pay off in the long run.

A structured questioning process will help your customers discover real needs and appropriate solutions. You and your customer do need to reach agreement as to whether they want the “latest thing,” robust industrial strength, or both. Sometimes the customer wants something really hi-tech. That’s ok too. Make sure they understand the difference between commercial and residential products. Easily hacked residential products are probably not appropriate for commercial use. There are however, some spectacular new commercial gee whiz devices that are priced within reach – if you know where to look.

Keep in mind the fundamentals of the security process. What are the physical, personnel, and intellectual property assets to be protected ? What are the current and potential threats (that we can deal with)? What is the environment (social, political, climate)? What are the consequences of loss or damage to these assets?

We know that multiple security layers dramatically improve the odds of defending the client’s assets. There is no such thing as a layer that can’t be penetrated, and no lock that can solve all access problems. Moving up to EAC can however, improve accountability and better verify who actually came through the door. EAC also allows us to quickly add, revoke, or revise access privileges, and with more certainty than with mechanical access controls. Balancing mechanical and electronic access helps you provide cost-effective control.

Off-line or Connected

Early on, we had card readers and controllers operating electric strikes or magnetic locks. Von Duprin was an early leader with electrified exit devices. Adams Rite built very effective electrified storefront locks and exit devices, and now offers battery operated or externally powered narrow stile configurations like the eForce® 3900-150. Later, electrified cylindrical and mortise locks emerged, and soon built-in sensors were installed to signal RQE, latch, bolt and door position. Low energy motors and solenoids are being used more often, giving the electrified lock or exit device high levels of functionality with low power.

In these component systems, the reader, power supply and electrified locks are independent of the off-line or networked controllers and head end management system. This allows components to be updated independently. However, component systems require a great deal more installation labor than the new smart locks do.

Integrating the lock with the reader and intelligence allows completely independent operation. These standalone smart locks can now also communicate via Wi-Fi with others, or even with a head-end management system.   Emerging smart locks are powered with long-life batteries and can be trickle-charged, if desired.

A number of residential Grade II standalone EAC locks currently offer keypad or biometric validation. This residential market segment appears to be more of a do-it-yourself niche that may be less attractive to the professional locksmith. Smart homes and IoT are another subject, we won’t cover in this particular article.

Standalone to Network

Since Electronic Access Control now has so many options, you’ll want a balance between trusted suppliers and good technology solutions. There do continue to be interesting developments, and your customer may genuinely place a high value on having the latest exciting technology – which might just be a really fun project.

Many entry level products like the Alarm Lock’s popular Grade I Trilogy® can now be installed stand-alone with card, code or dual validation, and later networked into systems of virtually any size. This type of standalone smart lock can be a good option for entry-level applications.

Transmission Technologies

An increasing number of these smart locks can now be networked with various Wi-Fi protocols. Two basic reader technologies are presently in use. Traditional proximity cards or fobs contain RFID chips interrogated by 125 KHz readers. The second generation is much faster at 13.56 MHz, allowing considerably more data to be examined.

The newer Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology provides bi-directional Wi-Fi communication, allowing a much higher transmission speed of 2.4 GHz over adjustable distances of up to 30 feet. BLE allows your smart phone to carry a highly encrypted access credential. Many EAC locks currently provide both second and this third generation BLE credential compatibility to help future-proof your client’s site. The BLE open architecture transmission protocol appears to be achieving overwhelming dominance in access control and in many retail applications. This technology is also likely to appear on thinner cards, and even biometrics in the near future as well.

Network on Card

The migration to “smart” credentials allows users to have a “Network on Card” with full intelligence right on a portable card or credential. Smart cards and mobile credentials can now transport data to Wi-Fi hotspots where information is communicated to a central controller as you pass through a zone or building. The bottom line is that your single door starter kit can grow to a very large system as the customer’s needs grow.

Fortunately, solutions like HID’s multi-technology cards help future-proof transitions and growth paths for the user. HID® offers cards that can work with European MIFARE, DESFire, and Legic protocols, as well as their own iClass SE® and highly encrypted Secure Identity Object protocols. Many of the current smart lock offerings today can read multiple card protocols, allowing your customer forward and backward compatibility.

Here is the caveat that will be important to your customer. Do they have 125 KHz or 13.56 MHz RFID protocols currently in use that will need to be read by the new locks? Will the new cards need to be read by existing readers in some other location? Does the facility use SFIC, standard cylinders, or one of the LFIC cores? Check these details. Although open architecture and backward compatibility are becoming the standard, assume nothing. Ask a lot of questions and verify the details.

Battery powered standalone locks have been forever popular in the hotel market, but primitive batteries and lack of attention cause frequent lock-outs. Smart locks are now powered with newer very long-life batteries and have emergency access protocols. In addition, Securitron’s PowerJump® ICPT makes an excellent trickle-charge option.

Marketing Recommendations

The internet allows you to locate and print flyers and brochures from manufacturer’s websites. Your wholesale distributor may have some current flyers as well. Keep the Locksmith Ledger 2018 Security Register handy (published December 2017). The Register has a wealth of information on manufacturers and wholesale distributors.

Printing a few flyers or “sell sheets,” from the internet allows you to show customers basic solutions and what products look like, while explaining the functions. Do a few test sheets with the “ink saver” mode on standard paper. When you see things you want to show customers, use the “Standard” ink setting with some 100lb paper stock that the ink won’t curl up. These will look nice and quite professional. The two-page “sell sheets” are fairly informative.

You can purchase some very current commercial duty smart locks from all major lock companies through your wholesale distributors. Alarm Lock, dormakaba, Codelocks, Marks, and Schlage, along with ASSAABLOY’s Arrow, Corbin/Russwin, SARGENT, and Yale smart locks are all available from your traditional wholesale sources. They also handle HID, Medeco, Cyberlock, and others.

An interesting Denver newcomer called Proxess has a state of the art BLE Wi-Fi Grade I battery operated smart lock. Another Grade I lock comes from Klacci, a division of Taiwan based I-TEK.

Also, in the residential market, there are some locks with face or fingerprint built in, but we’ve not yet been able to get our hands on them or verify ANSI ratings since most of these locks target the residential smart home.


For the commercial customer that wants to move up to biometric equipment, there are several technologies you may consider. At present, domestic products require mounting on wall or pedestal with power supply and electrified locking hardware.  

Invixium’s multi-modal IXM TITAN allows facial recognition, fingerprint or vascular, and card or PIN validation. Off-line and networked versions of these attractively-designed products are available. Google “cepro_ invixium,” for a discussion of integrating these commercial products with home automation.

Detection vs. Recognition. Face detection provides proof that a person’s face was detected to complete an authentication, whereas facial recognition, is a primary biometric measurement, verifying the person’s identity. Other facial recognition readers like StoneLock, plus Princeton Identity’s and the SekureID’s Iris Scanners left, and Morpho’s hand Wave technology are also bringing some amazing biometric processes to market. These technologies are not yet offered in commercial duty locks, but rapid development may be expected.

Commercial duty biometrics are not yet generally available from traditional lock distribution channels, but multiple manufacturers have told this writer that they see many technically competent lock-shops emerging. They expect the professional locksmith to become a significant player in this emerging market. If you or a customer sees a high-tech product you feel you can use, contact the manufacturer, and they will likely make it available through your suppliers or steer you to a good source.   Things are changing!

About the Author

Cameron Sharpe

Cameron Sharpe, CPP, worked 30 years in the commercial lock and electronic access industry. Contact him at [email protected].