New Uses and Technology Supercharge the Humble Utility Lock

March 4, 2019
Cabinets, drawers and lockers are candidates for EAC upgrades, as well as IT Department servers and drug and key cabinets

Utility Locks are often defined as locks for everything but doors, gates, or padlock hasps.  Here, we’ll cover hardware that secures cabinets, lockers, switches, handles, mail boxes and drawers.  This article will focus on the effects electronic technology is having on the humble utility lock, applications, and resources.

Although each new technology offers options and business opportunities, you want to find niches that fit your skills, and can yield long-term growth.  One very successful businessman recently advised that the major key to his success was a “laser focus” on one thing, avoiding the many attractive rabbit trails.  As you work through this article, ask yourself if this is a major opportunity, or just something you need to be aware of.  

We’ve been long acquainted with the ¾” desk drawer cylinder.  Every drawer or cabinet had a different offset, cam length, drawer or door thickness with fixed or lost motion.   File cabinets, sliding glass showcases, lockers, key cabinets, and cash boxes all seem to have different requirements. 

Your biggest challenge is where to find repair or replacement parts that will actually fit. These can often be time-consuming low profit repair jobs, but a well-stocked and organized service truck often has something that’ll work.  Every problem however, presents an opportunity.

New technologies and business needs can turn mundane low-profit jobs into positive cash-flow.  Clients with vending machines, ATMs, self-service laundries, cash drawers, gaming machines, and especially, computers, are demanding ever higher levels of security and accountability.  This presents considerable demand for new and upgraded electronic utility lock equipment. 

Sometimes it means big-ticket equipment like high value electronic locks on racks of computer servers.  Some see this as a massive emerging market opportunity, as many existing business and commercial data centers have yet to be upgraded.  Since current practice in the Information Technology field demands multiple layers of physical and data protection, we’ll cover this application in more depth.  

Remember this: the I.T. department is probably the best funded of all business activities.  I sat in one meeting where the Security Director was struggling to find $125,000 for an access control upgrade.  The I.T. director commented: “Is that all you need.  It’s just coffee money.”  The project got immediate funding. 

Here are some of the technologies and players currently in the utility lock market.

ASSA ABLOY has combined Adams Rite®, Alarm Controls®, HES®, and Securitron®, into the Electronic Security Hardware group at the Phoenix, AZ plant.  The link below connects you to the new Electrical Security Hardware Cabinet Lock Overview.  This brochure outlines ASSA ABLOY’s extensive electromechanical drawer, cabinet and utility lock offerings. lowres.pdf

Medeco®, of the ASSA ABLOY group, also contributes electronic specialty and utility products to the ESH group from their Salem, Virginia location. T-handle vending machine locks, Cam locks, drawers, and international cylinders can be upgraded to the XT technology shown here, or to the Classic CLIQ system. The current Medeco catalogue covers other electronic options not shown in the ESH Cabinet Lock overview.

The HES KS 200 multi-technology server rack lock combines biometric, card reader, and mechanical components  The ASSA ABLOY Cabinet Lock Overview booklet also includes low cost battery powered keypad or prox card, wireless or hardwired Aperio or Wiegand output cabinet or drawer locks.  The HES K100 is used for doors, drawers, and lockers.  A drug cabinet application can be equipped with the latest HID multi-technology reader and with full access control functions.

dormakaba’s  North American Rutherford Controls division (RCI) is the other major player in this market.  RCI provides electronic server rack locks with mechanical, and multi-factor electronic authentication, as well as the Kaba e-Plex 5790 Server Cabinet Lock.  Electronic cabinet, utility, and specialty locks from dormakaba’s various divisions are being consolidated into the RCI group.

In addition to the server rack locks, several other interesting options are shown in the new catalogue.  RCI’s 3513 mini Electromechanical Cabinet Lock can be monitored and fits into small enclosures, pulling only 200mA current.

Battery powered or hardwired models like the 3510 provide cabinet or drawer locks with Prox reader, as well as door or cabinet forced or held open alarms.

A small 3520 electronic latch (not shown) provides another option while the unique MEM4400 Compact electromechanical lock is concealed in narrow tracks to secure sliding doors.

CyberLock® offers its unique CyberKey® version of the electronic server rack lock that combines the power source and audit trail in the key.  The CyberLock website,, shows a rather large assortment of cam locks and cylinders that are used in electronic utility lock applications.  (Search for “Cylinders” under the “Cam Lock” section.)

Another brand you may encounter is from Chatsworth Products ( that specializes in critical IT infrastructure. This company provides server racks, cabling, transmission, and associated Electronic Access Control (EAC) equipment.  They supply server rack protection with keypads, cards, and the very slick Zwipe dual authentication biometric card. (See Evolving Card Access Options; Locksmith Ledger March 2018,  This is a very big business and skilled hardware installation is much appreciated. Upgrading these hundreds of thousands of server racks is a current priority in the I.T. world. 

Chatsworth products do not appear to be currently marketed through normal locksmithing channels (though some components do appear to be available from Anixter).  Your local systems integrators and contractors who install these systems, generally need skilled metal and woodworking help to install electromechanical locking hardware.  Make friends with these integrators. 

Another entry point is any mechanical service call.  Ask if they have considered upgrading to EAC control of server racks or sensitive drawers, cabinets or lockers.  Let them know there are new options to improve accountability and control access.

Power can be delivered to electronic utility locks in several ways.  These may be battery powered, hardwired, POE (Power over Internet), external key powered (Cyberlock, Medeco XT, or CLIQ®), or by Securitron’s cordless PowerJump™ inductive current power transfer.   A number of these products have also developed into rather complete EAC points, with options like forced or held open and other alarms.

Data transmission back to an access control head end for accountability and alarms can be handled by a variety of local network connections.  One option is the smart electronic key (like Cyberlock, Medeco’s XT or CLIQ, or other electronic key technologies that may soon emerge). Standard hardwired data transfer and smart cards are popular network vehicles.  Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), using mobile credentials like your smart phone is emerging as a practical network vehicle.  We’re likely to see BLE used extensively in utility locks in the near future as well.

Three other players appear to serve this market with battery or hardwired electronic utility lock options.   Some of these electronic options are available for key cabinets and many can be retrofitted (See: Institutional Application of Key Cabinets, Locksmith Ledger February 2019, www.

CodeLocks has a variety of modestly priced, battery powered cabinet and drawer applications, some with alarm outputs, and available with cam lock or slam latch applications. The CL2200 surface deadbolt provides an 80,000 operation battery life, and up to 80 users.  The KL1000 cam lock provides 15,000 operations on two AAA batteries.  The Nano90 provides 100,000 operation battery life for very small drawers, cabinets and lockers.  The budget priced KL1550 supports keypad as well as public and private use MIFARE based cards and NetCode.

CompX offers an easy-install battery or hardwired StealthLock® cabinet and drawer lock with RF keypad that can be mounted in any convenient nearby location.  The 15-foot range allows the keypad to be concealed out of sight.  A simple 10-minute installation makes a neat budget solution for many applications.  As with all radio frequency devices, metal enclosures can significantly impair communication to an internally-mounted receiver and lock assembly.

FJM, Lynnwood, WA based maker of numerous utility locks, key cabinets and parts builds the Combi-Cam E™ RFID Electronic Lock.  The lock is operated by keypad, or 125Mhz RFID prox card and fob.  The device is popular for lockers, drawers and cabinets, as well as their own lockable key cabinet.  An important issue for school applications is the vandal resistant detent which allows the turn knob to rotate if overpowered, and is reactivated when the proper code is entered.

The conclusion is that the application of electronic access control functions his allowed the humble utility lock to become an important cog in the security machinery.  Cabinets, drawers and lockers are candidates for EAC upgrades.  Servers are especially vulnerable and IT departments are continually upgrading, while drug and key cabinets are prime prospects as well.

If your client would benefit by integrating the utility lock (server rack, key cabinet, drug drawer, vending machine, etc.) into his EAC system, the first thing you will want to check is what card or communication protocols his system uses.  Then research the above suppliers to see who can provide compatible hardware that fits the user’s need.  You will find quite an array of RFID protocols.  Assume nothing.  Also remember that the structural integrity of the housing is likely to be the weakest link.

How do you sell upgraded EAC utility locks?  As a young salesman, I was told to always have a spec sheet with something new to show the customer.  Some years later, I was privileged to hire two of the best salesmen I’d ever met (currently top producers in the lock and EAC fields).  They never sold anything, but simply listened to the client’s concerns.   These salesmen became trusted partners to the customers, which led to very solid and mutually beneficial relationships.

Cameron Sharpe, CPP wrote for Caterpillar and Honeywell before working 25-years in hardware and electronic access distribution. [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].