Touchless at the Commercial Door

Oct. 1, 2021
Whether low touch, no touch or somewhere in between, today’s hands-free solutions are expected to become tomorrow’s normal methods of passage.

Security and safety often go hand in hand, and the desire to address both has led to a number of changes at the door and in door hardware.

Take, for example, the necessity to allow people to exit buildings easily when a fire alarm goes off. That led to mechanical panic bars and eventually fail-safe electronic locking solutions that open when power is out.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to produce similar changes. Fear of contacting or spreading germs, bacteria and viruses, amplified by the pandemic, made it so more people wanted to touch doors, levers, knobs, etc. less.

In 2020, the security industry rolled out a variety of solutions to address this demand. Some, such as touchless actuators, had been around for years but now were aimed at a much broader market. Others, such as mechanical hardware that allowed a person to open a door by using an arm or foot instead of their hand, were new concepts of old ideas.

As the discussion of risk mitigation moved from doors to vaccines in 2021, the chatter of touchless died down some, but, if anything, the march toward a so-called new normal where touchless passage through a door becomes standard only has picked up steam.

Brad Sweet, commercial marketing leader for Allegion, which makes LCN automatic door operators and touchless actuators, notes that the purchase of touchless hardware has changed.

“A year ago, a lot of facilities were doing these as kind of one-offs,” he says. For example, they were installing touchless hardware on a single door. “What we’re finding now is these are beginning to be ‘in cycle.’ They’re part of an annual upgrade package.”

In other words, what was financed as a trial now is becoming part of a regular budget, which means regular work for locksmiths and security pros.

To be sure, healthcare facilities remain at the forefront of installing or retrofitting touchless hardware. Education is expected to be a huge market as well because of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund for K-12 and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) for colleges and universities, which make funding available for security upgrades.

After that is the commercial door, particularly offices.

That’s where Jacob Myers is seeing the uptick in business. Myers is president of C&M Security in San Antonio.

“I think this is going to change the mindset of a lot of commercial workplaces, where they’re going to try to keep doors open where they can or keep it touchless to keep people healthy,” he says. “I think it will increase to a point where it will be — I hate to use the term ‘new normal,’ but it will be a new standard.”

That makes sense to Sweet, because commercial places also have to make sure they’re in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for access. Going touchless is one way to achieve that.

“Most buildings have ADA actuators at the perimeter,” he says. “But very few doors internally have an ADA operator. So, the ability to not only make a door touchless, but I can make a door, such as a bathroom door, ADA-compatible as well, that goes a long way in terms of creating a good, healthy building overall.”

Lots of Options

The first thing to know about touchless door hardware is that no single solution exists. In fact, lots of manufacturers make a range of products aimed at creating a touchless door. (They also use different terms for the end result, including “hands-free” and “touch-free.”)

Naturally, the more that electronics are involved, the higher the cost is. Plus, electronics might not work at a particular doorway. Such considerations can have an effect on what products are used where although not necessarily whether touchless is used at all. The important thing is to evaluate each doorway.

“There are certain doors, especially mechanical doors, there’s no easy way to automate them, or maybe it is not a cost-effective way to automate them,” says Peter Boriskin, chief technology officer of ASSA ABLOY Americas. “So how, then, do you open those doors with as little touch as possible?”

Of course, opening the door is the primary consideration, because manual door operators have allowed for touchless door closing for decades. A mechanical opening option could be the inclusion of hardware that’s deemed “low touch,” which means that the door is touched and opened not by a hand but by a foot or arm. Myers says he installed a fair number of foot pulls early in the pandemic, and he sees them frequently in new commercial construction in his area.

“It’s almost like it’s being spec’ed on the door hardware, because they’re just automatically on there now,” he says. He suspects that restaurants and small businesses are best suited for these upgrades, because they’re less likely to spend on electronic solutions. “They’re not going to do it unless they’re super-health-conscious.”

Foot pulls and arm pulls, of course, are aimed at doors that should be closed. For doors that can remain open, mechanical and electromagnetic door holders can make for touchless passage.

Regardless of the solution, make sure that it complies with applicable code and local or regional requirements. That means being in touch with your local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), says Kerby Lecka, director of marketing at SDC.

Manufacturers can talk about touchless solutions “in a blanket way,” he says. “But then if I’m in a particular place, what’s the local AHJ saying about this? What are the specific AHJ requirements?”

It’s Automatic

When it comes to completely touchless passage, the most widely used electronic solution is a low-energy swing-door operator paired with a touchless actuator, also known as a switch.

Low-energy door operators, of course, have gained widespread acceptance as an ADA solution, in which the door opens through “a knowing act.” This includes the press of a button or, increasingly, the wave of a hand in front of an actuator that no one has to touch. (These also are known generically as wave-to-open switches, although some manufacturers use that term specifically on their products.)

This is a good thing for locksmiths. They’re already familiar with the door operators, which appear to be getting increasingly easy to install or retrofit, and if the operator already is in place, all that’s necessary is a swap from the push-button to a touchless actuator.

Myers says the time spent making such a swap depends on the existing equipment. If it’s wired, it’s a simple retrofit. If it’s a wireless push-button, adding the touchless actuator likely will require an additional wire run.

“It’s, generally speaking, not a big deal,” he says. Although he acknowledges that some locksmiths might not be interested in electronics, those who are should dive into the touchless world.

“I’m always telling them, ‘it’s easier than you think,’” he says. “This is an incredibly easy — I hate to use the word ‘sell.’ It’s an incredibly easy sell to get your customer into a touchless option or present them with that option. And it’s a really easy upgrade to do.” That easy sell is because of the pandemic. “All we have to do is mention [a touchless actuator], and they go for it, because it’s in their mindset of what they’re wanting.”

Glenn Younger, owner and president of Grah Security in San Diego, agrees that the combination of a low-energy door operator and a touchless actuator is a great touchless solution for locksmiths, but he further suggests tailoring the message to your audience.

“The people that we’re dealing with oftentimes are in facilities, and they’re ‘kissing cousins’ to people in janitorial,” Younger says. “The real selling point for them had mostly to do with the fact the door will last longer, because there will be less abuse on the door if a machine is opening it up as opposed to a human.”

Younger further advises that security pros should know that not all touchless actuators are the same. A key difference: the required distance between the actuator and the person’s hand to activate the door operator.

There are different types of touchless actuators, which might include capacitive sensors, microwave sensors or infrared sensors. Different types have different distances where a hand in front of the sensor will activate the door opener, and they can range from an inch to two feet. This can vary even from products by the same manufacturer. Then, some actuators also might allow for an adjustable range of actuation.

“If it requires that you get too close to it before it’ll work, that won’t work in some environments,” Younger says. “Some other environments, if it’s reading too far out, [the door will] be opening when it doesn’t need to open, and people are upset with that. You really need to think, ‘what’s the range that would make the most sense on this door or whatever this touchless button is opening?’”

When it comes to possible touchless solutions, here are a few options:

SDC S5000 Series Storefront Exit Device

Mechanical exit devices have been a great “hands free” device for decades, because of the ability to activate them, thus opening the door, by bumping a hip or back into the push pad. SDC, however, has an electronic option for commercial applications.

The S5100 rim exit device, which is aimed at aluminum glass doors, has motorized latch retraction built in as standard. So, it can be connected with a system that includes an automatic door opener and a touchless actuator.

The exit device is part of the company’s Hands Free Door Solutions lineup of products that can create a touchless doorway regardless of the type of locking device or whether the door has to conform with ADA requirements, Lecka says.

“That’s kind of our flavor, how we approached it,” he says.

The S5100, like other S5000 Series exit devices, is ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 certified and UL 305 rated for panic hardware. Note that it requires a strike extension block to retrofit single-door applications.

More info: sdcsecurity.com

Camden SureWave Touchless Switches

For the most part, installing a touchless actuator as part of a retrofit involves connecting wires or running an additional wire to power the device, depending on existing equipment. However, that isn’t universally true.

A couple of touchless actuators in Camden Door Controls’ SureWave line are battery-powered, which can provide for wireless installation as well as touchless passage.

They’re part of a push by Camden to improve the ease of installation, says David Price, vice president of communications and corporate development. Another is a new line of surface boxes with extension rings that allow for SureWave touchless actuators to be retrofit over a push-button switch.

“Installers have different approaches to their door activation and how they would like to accomplish that,” he says. “We’ve come up with a number of different ways for installers to be able to change out that nonpowered switch very quickly.”

As for the battery-powered CM-330 and CM-333 actuators, the CM-333 is a so-called hybrid actuator that can connect to a wired relay or a Camden wireless transmitter. The CM-330 has a built-in wireless transmitter. Either is expected to get 2 years of use out of two AA batteries (at 100 cycles per day) in normal indoor climates.

More info: www.touchlesswave.com

dormakaba Touchfree Kit

If the fundamental touchless combination is a low-energy door operator and a touchless actuator, dormakaba has that package ready to go as a kit. The kit includes an ED50 automatic operator and two RCI 910TC touchless actuators (one for each side of a door).

The kits are aimed particularly at multistall bathroom doors, says Eddie Sims, dormakaba senior sales manager for key accounts. “We call them Touch-free washroom kits, really.”

The kits come in four versions, with either a clear anodized aluminum (silver) or dark bronze anodized aluminum (chocolate brown) door operator finish and an operator that’s mounted on the inside of a room and pulls the door open or mounted on the outside and pushes the door open.

The kits are part of a push by dormakaba to emphasize touchless passage. At the center of the campaign is an interactive website that suggests potential touchless or low-touch solutions depending on the market and application. For example, you can select Retail and a number of possible sites, such as entry doors, offices or utility rooms. After selecting the access methods there or desired, the website will provide short-term and long-term solutions.

More info: www.touchfreeaccess.com

STI NoTouch Stainless Steel Button

Safety Technology International has had an aluminum touchless actuator for years, but when COVID hit, the company recognized that the nature of touchless entry was about to broaden, says Michael Mikaelian, vice president of sales at STI USA.

The result was a line of stainless steel touchless actuators that included models for single-gang, double-gang and slim or mullion-mounted doorways.

“For us, the big thing is just having a variety, because you’re just not going to have one application,” Mikaelian says.

The NoTouch stainless steel buttons are rated IP65, so they can be used on covered exterior doors (although certain touchless actuators don’t work as well outdoors) and include a slightly oversized faceplate to cover marks from previous equipment. This is useful for retrofit, where Mikaelian particularly sees the move to touchless passage.

“The biggest area will be retrofit, which, for the locksmith, that’s perfect,” he says.

More info: www.sti-usa.com

LCN 6400 COMPACT Series

The new 6400 COMPACT low-energy door operator is the latest product by Allegion to take modular design into consideration.

In this case, the aim is firmly on retrofitting, because the design allows the installer to incorporate an existing LCN 4040XP mechanical closer and turn it electric, and, thus, possibly touchless. All that’s necessary is a mounting plate and four screws. The motor gearbox connects directly onto the mechanical closer.

The goal, Sweet says, was not only to bring touchless as well as ADA conformity to interior doors of a commercial building, but also to simplify the installation.

“It’s a one-person job,” he says of installing the 6400 COMPACT. “If there’s an outlet nearby, there’s no need for an electrician.” Sweet adds that the door operator, which includes a power supply, even uses the same template as the 4040XP.

More info: us.allegion.com

Norton 5800 Series ADAEZ

When it comes to providing touchless passage, ASSA ABLOY brings a number of products, mechanical and electronic, from its different divisions to bear as part of its Safer2Open continuum.

One such product that can serve as a mechanical or electronic solution is the 5800 Series ADAEZ door operator. This door operator uses a regenerative battery pack that allows, on average, for one automatic — and, thus, potentially touchless — opening for every four manual openings. A fully charged battery can open the door 2,000 times in a row automatically.

Although this door operator is geared more toward manual use to charge the battery, it also can be connected with a 24 VDC power supply or a plug-in 110 VAC outlet through the addition of a Norton kit to create potentially constant touchless passage.

Of course, if the door were being pulled open by using Rockwood arm or foot pulls, then the door can be “touchless,” even manually.

Boriskin says devices such as this can bring touchless to more doors. “There may be some places in the middle [of the touchless-products spectrum] that we can deploy new kinds of solutions and reduce the infrastructure cost,” he says.

More info: www.assaaabloydss.com