Advantages of Electronic Safe Locks

Dec. 1, 2016
Mechanical locks have not evolved and penetrating these becomes easier every day. Having agile and more confounding ways to secure our valuables is a huge advantage of electronic locks.

I grew up watching television shows that tantalized us with the prospect of videophones, self-driving muscle-cars and banged-up astronauts turned supermen with bionic limbs for the bargain price of $ 6 million.  Today all of these things exist.  The age old fantasy became reality when we put man on the moon and who doesn’t believe we’ll do the same on Mars?  The world is changing.  There’s virtually no facet of life that isn’t affected.  Closer to home, our access control industry is changing mightily.  In the past half-century, the penetration threat against safes and locks has gone from “Butch & Sundance” using dynamite to, now, any devious teenager with access to YouTube.  In short, this has been the age of change.

I live in Lexington, Kentucky, a beautiful small city known for basketball, bourbon, and thoroughbred horses.  It is a small city due in part to an anti-change faction of society whose motto is “growth destroys bluegrass forever.”  This in itself is not a bad thing, as long as they understand even as they don’t change, the world is still changing around them.

Lexington is also known as “The Safe Lock Capital of the World” because the number of prominent safe lock businesses that reside here.  Among them is the Lockmasters Security Institute (LSI), where people from all over the world come to train in lock and security technology.  They are on the cutting edge of change in our industry.  At that same training center is a museum of the world’s largest collection of antique locks.  It’s an amazing display of locks throughout the ages in perfect contrast to the most advanced and highly technical locks of today.

Because the world is changing, locksmith and security professionals need to keep up with the emerging products and features enabled by new technology.    The safe lock market has moved forward and today sells, by a large majority, electronic locks.  Yet, there still remains a large base of old-style mechanical locks still in use today and a faction of users whose motto is “technology destroys mechanical locks forever.”  There is a balance to strike between nostalgia and progress, which brings me to the question, why would anyone want a new-fangled battery-powered high-tech electronic lock instead of the tried and true old-school radial dial combination lock?  To answer, we need to understand the benefits of the new technology. 

First, let’s quickly dispense with the cost question.  Typically, mechanical locks are less expensive than electronic models.  It’s a supply and demand/value for the dollar equation.  In general, one could argue that, at less than $200 MSRP for either style, the lock cost is negligible compared to the valuables it’s intended to protect, or to the cost of the safe on which it’s mounted.

That said, let’s look at what an old-school dial combination lock can do.  By spinning the dial back and forth a typical three- or four-number combination is entered to manipulate the bolt to the open position.  And then you can change the combination.  That’s pretty much it.  Tried and true as they are, mechanical locks have only one function.  There are some modifications you can make to the container to add a door-open/closed signal or silent alarm, but now you’d be venturing perilously close to ‘modern technology’.

Regarding the battery-operated high-tech electronic lock, let’s quickly concede that they can perform the same binary function of the mechanical lock – put in a combination and it unlocks.  But in further comparison, electronic locks have much more to offer.  (You might want to keep a copy of this list handy because, in this business, you WILL be asked, “why one instead of the other?”)

  • Ease of operation - keypad, beeps, lights, warnings and settings are all intended to provide a better user experience.  Who wants to dial left-right-left in the dark when precious time hangs in the balance?
  • Easy to program - change combination without a unique little funny shaped tool.  You also may add or change many other features
  • Ease of Service – 75 percent of lock-outs can be resolved without drilling (learned at LSI)
  • Reliability – on par with mechanicals
  • Added security from optional programmable features:
  • Super Master Reset code and Master codes
  • Multiple users with different combinations - add, delete, enable, disable and audit
  • Dual-mode, a.k.a. Dual Control, requiring two separate combinations to function
  • Dual-token – requires a physical ‘key’ of some sort plus an electronic combination
  • Time Delay – frustrating the heck out of would-be robbers in a hurry
  • Timed Open Period or Time Window – only operates during times of your choosing
  • Wrong Try (time delay) penalty – another great discouragement to criminals
  • Duress (Hold-up) mode w/silent alarm
  • Audit trail to record when locks were used by whom
  • Bolt position switch (open/closed) within the lock itself
  • One-Time Use Code or One-Time-Code (UTC)

Lastly, we must acknowledge one more advantage due to progressive changes in technology.  In a grand display of cosmic irony, our honorable multi-billion-dollar access control industry exists only because there are people who don’t want our industry to exist.  In this classic “chicken or egg” logic loop we must be ever conscious that the laying and hatching are occurring faster than ever before.  However, mechanical locks have not evolved and penetrating these becomes easier every day.  Having agile and more confounding ways to secure our valuables is a huge advantage of electronic locks.

So, it looks like the electronic lock is better.  Is this to say there’s no place for the staid, proven and reliable mechanical lock?  Never.  In spite of the inherent advantages of electronic locks, there is still a place in our hearts for nostalgia and basic function.  Like many, I never stopped liking vinyl records and old movies.  The Mini-Cooper I fantasize about is half-again smaller than today’s version and I’m fascinated with mid-century aircraft.  I love these things and anything old and historic, but ask me if I’d want to record my child’s first words on a vinyl disk or first steps on celluloid film.  Ask me which Mini I’d prefer my daughters to drive to school, or which plane I’d prefer to cross the Atlantic.  In the same way, the lock selected or recommended must address style preference and risk aversion.

I mentioned the LSI lock museum to highlight the longstanding science, precision, art and beauty of our profession.  Mechanical locks are good and have had their place in history and have their place today when high function is not required.  Mechanical locks are still popular and readily available, even really old and really expensive ones.  But, I’ll venture a guess with confidence that if you buy one that’s really old and really expensive you’ll probably keep it secured behind an electronic lock.