Best Practices for Electronic Upgrades

May 4, 2020
Preparation in the shop will help you to avoid mishaps in the field.

This sage comment from a Formula One team manager applies to electronic door hardware as much as to half-billion-dollar race teams: We’ve all had experiences where minutes of preparation would have saved hours of work. Following a few best practices will ensure that you stay on the plus side of the work ledger.

As we discussed, mechanical locks and exit devices can be electrified by the addition of an external keypad or reader, the upgrade to battery-powered electronics or the change to a smart electronic core or cylinder from an existing lock.

Solutions such as CyberLock’s CyberKey, the Medeco XT or CLIQ and the new Switch Tech by BEST Bluetooth interchangeable core from dormakaba allow for fast and portable electronic upgrades. Recent advances in wireless power transfer courtesy of the Securitron PowerJump Inductive Coupling Power Transfer or the SDC Wireless Power Transfer provide problem-solving power options as well.

However, you’ll have to plan ahead when you’re about to help a customer make the jump to electronics.

Make a Plan

Planning might be the most profitable part of your job. You should start by making a checklist of items you’ll have to have and tasks that you’ll have to perform. Here are some typical SNAFUs that erode job profitability:

  • Customer database not provided ahead of time
  • Programming and technical surprises
  • Programming not done in advance
  • Unclear installation instructions
  • Job site access restricted
  • Business traffic interferes with installation
  • Customer training plan not clear
  • Missing parts, tools or test equipment.

Some SNAFUs can’t be avoided, but preparation can help you to avoid several of them. Studying the instructions, performing a trial assembly, and programming and bench testing at the shop are always more efficient than fumbling around with these steps for the first time in the field. 

Instructions are always clear to the person who wrote them, but writers too often make assumptions and leave out critical information. The worst time to discover muddled instructions is when you're on the job site. At the shop, you have tools, parts, computers, printers, phones and the internet available — and hot coffee. You can get the database information and a clear installation plan before you leave the shop. Job sites have enough surprises of their own.

In one case, I was nearly finished at 4:30 p.m. when an electrician informed me that he was required to shut off all power and lock the construction site immediately. I had only about 5 or 10 more minutes of work, but the job site was more than an hour drive away from the shop. Fortunately, having planned ahead, I had a key to the job site, and after a quick coffee, I was able to finish up.

In another case, we planned four hours of system training and then were informed that we had to spend two days on site (200 miles from the shop) to train a 15-person team. Then, there was a rattlesnake behind one of the doors. Well, you can’t plan for everything.

Be Prepared

I’ve found great videos or training links for certain jobs that show important details not obvious on the printed instructions. Studying training videos and instructions is useful, but trying to do so on a dirty job site with an erratic Wi-Fi connection is incredibly inefficient. Do your studying ahead of time.

Once, for example, a major connection problem on one project was solved by zooming in on an online PDF at the shop. The expanded view showed a terminal connection that wasn’t clear on the printed instructions.

Some of the best online training I’ve seen was posted by Securitron, covering its updated power supplies for electronic upgrades. See “Securitron AQL Netlink Power Monitoring Module training” at The Netlink training module opens an enlightening window into the information technology (IT) part of the security business. 

Programming Ahead

Programming an electronic lock at the shop, rather than in the field, can save a great deal of time. Your office connection, computer, printer and workspace generally will prove to be far more efficient than what’s available at the job site.

Don’t count on everything being plug and play. You can eliminate many SNAFUs by filling in any knowledge blanks at the shop. You might face connectivity terms that are unfamiliar. Failure to get the correct information ahead likely will guarantee a call-back. I can verify that from costly experience.

If the instructions include one or more unfamiliar terms, look up what the term means on the net and call the IT guys at the job site to get the correct programming data. If you can send a PDF or email showing what you have to have to the IT person, they can get the exact information for you before you arrive at the job site, rather than guessing and potentially making a mistake (and requiring a return visit).

If you look up any term, you’ll find that knowledge is power. At the very least, you’ll be asking good questions and be far less likely to get a brush off from IT. It also gives you the opportunity to build a relationship with the IT professional on site and verify that they will be available to ensure that you’ll have a clean network connection on the job.

The Right Equipment

With an electronic lock in place, communication between the user and the lock can be by keypad, through a 125-kilohertz prox card or fob, a 13.56-megahertz (MHz) radio-frequency ID (RFID), such as HID’s iCLASS Seos cards, or a 2.4-gigahertz Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol that uses mobile credentials. BLE-enabled mobile credentials appear to be gaining dominance in access control applications. Their substantially faster transmission speeds, multiple high levels of encryption, adjustable range, hands-free access and quick-connecting apps appear to be driving the rapid market penetration.

Ultrahigh-frequency RFID transmission operates from 850 MHz to 960 MHz and communicates at distances of 25 to 75 feet. This technology is used commonly for high-speed toll collection or gate operation.

Although mobile credentials support both transmission technologies, there is some confusion regarding BLE vs. near-field communications (NFC) protocols in the access control industry. Four issues are discussed frequently: transmission distance, throughput, security and convenience.

  • NFC transmits up to 4 centimeters (about 1-1/2 inches), which prevents long-range interception. BLE 4.2 and later has short-, medium- or long-range settings. BLE short range operates up to 2 feet.
  • BLE 4.2 transmits at 1–2 megabits per second, whereas NFC transmits at only 424 kilobits per second, although NFC’s lower level of encryption allows faster connection.
  • NFC and BLE can use high-security chips that defend against external attacks. However, high-end BLE applications can have encrypted data on both ends of the Bluetooth connection, as well as a highly encrypted transmission of data.
  • When it’s set in “background” mode, a BLE-enabled mobile credential can be hands-free, with the lock activating when it’s touched. NFC requires a mobile credential to be presented for each application. NFC connects instantly to terminals not registered to a mobile device, which makes it a good technology for retail payment.

New access control applications using BLE technology are being introduced by numerous companies on a constant basis. The recent introduction of the BLE-enabled Switch Core for small-form interchangeable core (SFIC) applications has opened an interesting new market for the locksmith. More than 100 million SFICs are in use in North America, so upgrading to electronic interchangeable cores is a major opportunity.

Upgrade Your Tools

Converting cylindrical, mortise or storefront locks to electronics typically requires some additional prep work for the door. During such installations, I often looked for a place to stash screws, springs, parts and pieces. GKL’s Door Caddy clamps onto the door, which keeps the parts handy and catches small pieces that always seem to disappear into the darkest corner.

Although paper router templates are supplied, specialized quality metal templates can save valuable time and door damage when you upgrade. Major Manufacturing has been one of the leaders in providing high-quality installation templates for popular cylindrical and mortise electronic upgrades. A modular template system produces accurate door prep for wood or hollow metal storefront applications. Pro-Lok has a clamp and template system that’s available for a wide selection of lock installation and electronic upgrades.

We won’t cover electronic testing tools here, but a couple of items are worth mentioning. When I got my hands on an auto-ranging Fluke digital multimeter, my old analog brick was gone. Also, as you do more connections, you’ll be acquainted with cutting, stripping, crimping and testing equipment, such as that found at Platinum Tools and others. 

After a distinguished Air Force career, a friend told me that the secret of his success was preparation. He always spent time studying manuals and learning about his next assignment. It paid off with two stars on his epaulets. The bottom line is that you’ll be far more productive when you’re prepared.

Cameron Sharpe, CPP-Life Certified, worked 30 years in the commercial-lock and electronic access industry. He advised institutional, military, industrial and utility organizations on key- and access control processes. [email protected]

About the Author

Cameron Sharpe

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