Best of 2017: Key Machines

Dec. 4, 2017
With the new generation of electronic key cutting machines electronics and software can be combined to accomplish cutting-edge procedures

One of the most important changes in the locksmith industry has been in the design of locking systems.  Key shapes, sizes and cutting requirements have also changed. A result is that new types of key machines are required for duplication and origination.

This reporter can remember a locksmith era when time was spent each day duplicating bit keys. Machines used for duplicating bit keys did not contain protective shrouds. The interaction as a milling cutter sliced into mallable iron bit key blanks emitted an unforgettable smell.  There were no OSHA regulations at the time and one can only guess at the health implications of breathing those fumes.

Use of bit key locks in North America is a distant memory.  Lever lock systems once popular in locker locks and mail box locks have been replaced with wafer or tumbler locking systems. Safe deposit locks are the only holdout requiring a special key machine equipped with a slotter cutter. 

Automotive lock systems have also changed. Internal laser cuts on keys have replaced the old edge-cut key systems on most car models.   When originating edge-cut keys the blank can be manually moved to each space position before making the proper depth cut.  Laser-cut keys require a continuous connecting groove from one cut to the next along the surface of the blank. Lock manufacturers have further confused the issue by developing several different types of internal and external laser-cut systems.  Manual originating of laser cut keys can be either tedious and time-consuming or almost impossible. 

Several key machine manufacturers have come to the aid of the locksmith industry by developing new, electronic key cutting machines which can originate keys automatically. Laser keys require a vertical mill.  Stepper motors automatically adjust for the correct vertical depth of cut into the key blank and for the multiple horizontal movements of the key blank as it is being cut. These new machines allow laser-cut keys to be easily originated  n the shortest amount of time. 

Most of these new machines also feature key duplication. Electronic key cutting machines include some type of code software which includes depth and space dimensioning. A probe on the machines is used to decode cuts from an operating key. Once correct depth and space dimensioning is set according to the software, the machine moves the probe to each cut space on the key.  The probe is then moved against the key cut at each space position. When the probe touches the key a depth of cut is recorded.  Cuts can then be retrieved and a duplicate key can be originated.  Original depth and spaces can be used so the duplicate will not contain any worn characteristics often found on the key to be duplicated.

Edge-cut keys are still used for commercial and utility locks. Latest versions of electronic key machines contain both a vertical milling cutter for laser keys and a separate horizontal milling cutter for originating edge-cut keys.  The wide variety of laser-cut and edge-cut key types requires several different vise jaw attachments for securing keys in the machine. Vise jaw attachments are also available for originating special keys such as tubular, dimple and Tibbe.

Electronics and software can be combined to accomplish procedures never thought possible before. One such possibility is engraving.  As example, keys used in a master key system can be marked as needed for future identification. Another possibility is originating Medeco or Sargent Degree keys where some cuts may be cut left or right of the center vertical position. This can be accomplished by electronically tilting either the vise jaw or the cutter blade.

Bright lighting, drawer systems for catching shavings and enclosed shrouds for safety wrap up a package of features unheard of just a few short years ago.  Latest introductions from key machine manufacturers include the following:                

Ninja Total by Keyline USA

An all-in-one electronic key cutting machine that copies and decodes flat keys, laser keys and dimple keys   Ninja Total also contains an engraving function.

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Futura by Kaba Ilco

One machine provides the capabilities to cut flat, laser, dimple, cruciform, tubular and Tibbe style keys. Futura also contains an engraving function.

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TigerShark2 by HPC

A machine designed to decode and cut edge-cut, laser cut, tubular and dimple keys plus the capability to cut patented angle-cut keys such as Medeco and Sargent Degree.  TigerShark2 also contains an engraving function.

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3D Elite By Laser Key Products

Next generation key cutting machine which can trace/decode and originate both standard and high security keys. Can also cut Tibbe, Tubular and slotted (safe deposit) keys.

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FRA2001 by Framon Mfg.

Award winning key machine designed to originate  opular edge-cut type keys. PC-based software simplifies all operating procedures.

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