Choosing the right electronic lock is the ‘key’ to good security

Jun 26, 2021

Once upon a time, security began with the building of a physical barrier around a zone to protect it. Inside that protected zone was placed the people and valuables that required protection. Doors then had to be designed to allow passage through those barriers. And eventually locks were invented to ensure unauthorized people did not pass through the doors.

But as the number of people that required access through a door grew, it became necessary to provide someone at the door to unlock it for all that passed, and the concept of a concierge or door keeper was born. The only other solution was to give everyone a key, but that’s a nightmare: what if someone lost their key or had it stolen? Now there’s a good chance that someone unauthorised is able to pass through the door, and the protected zone is safe no more…

And what if there was more than just the one door that provided access to the protected area? Or different protected areas that some people needed access to, but others needed to be kept out of? Employ more door staff, get more keys to be issued to staff: only to be lost and stolen and new keys reissued and on and on it goes…

Then came 1970’s computer technology and the modern electronic access control system saved the day (but consequently put the end to many a doorman’s and locksmiths career). Now electronic locks could be used to secure a door; and at a relatively low cost compared to the cost of employing a doorman or maintaining keys for a large population of staff.

As the access control market grew, so did the need for different types of electrified locks to unlock the doors. Technology has come a long way since the 70’s, but many of the early designs of electronic locks remain. All have their pros and cons and selecting the right type for an access control system needs to be carefully considered or else you’ll end up with a door that’s either illegal, unsafe, unsecure, or unsightly to look at.

Here’s our guide on the most popular types of electrified lock that you should consider when implementing an access control system for your building:

ELECTRONIC STRIKE

By far the one of the most popular electrified locks, an electronic strike is installed inside a door frame and replaces the fixed strike plate into which the mechanical latch bolt locks into when the door is closed. One of the benefits to electronic strikes is that they can be used in conjunction with existing door hardware and locks, and override the need to use a handle or lock to open the door.

They can be used as a fail-safe lock, so that if the electronics fail the door unlocks to allow safe access in or out of the door, or they can be fail-secure in which case the door remains locked no matter what. And an electronic strike can be monitored by switches to ensure that the door is closed with the latch bolt securely in position.

They can be quickly retrofitted to most doors by a skilled locksmith, however care always needs to be taken to ensure that modifying the door frame doesn’t compromise the integrity or void the fire rating of the frame.

MAGNETIC LOCK

Magnetic locks are the go-to for most security installers, they are easy to install, work on most doors, they provide good security and are generally very dependable.

A magnetic lock works by using an electromagnet fitted to the door frame and an armature fitted to the door. When the door closes, the armature comes into contact with the electromagnet and through the power and magic of a magnetic field, the two stick together like glue; quite literally, with a typical holding force of 1200lbs, they can be near on impossible to prise apart.

However, they can be far from the perfect solution when it comes to electrifying a door and some key considerations (pun intended) when securing a door with a magnetic lock include:

  • Because magnetic locks have no mechanical elements, they require power to lock: meaning that if the power to the lock is lost, the door becomes unlocked. Accordingly, a back-up power supply should always be considered when using magnetic locks.
  • Magnetic locks have no free mechanical egress which means power to the lock must be removed in order to open the door, and in order to do this you need some type of request-to-exit sensor or request-to-exit button. An emergency break glass door release may also be required, especially for fire exit doors.
  • Aside from the additional cost, there are some security concerns to consider too: it’s not uncommon for a person on the outside of the door to push a rod or stick between a small gap in a door (especially with frameless glass doors) in order to activate the request-to-exit sensor and gain unauthorized access.

ELECTRONIC MORTISE LOCK

An electronic mortise lock is a standard mortise lock, that is electronic… It really is that simple and that is why they are one of the best choices for an electrified lock. They are known as a free egress lock as they allow any person familiar with the operation of a normal door to use it without any additional knowledge: turn the handle on the inside to get out, and use your key or access credential to get it.

Mortise locks are an incredibly robust type of lockset and are well known for their strength and security, can be used in fail-safe and fail-secure applications and can be monitored for correct door and latch position.

They can be easily installed into new commercial doors in construction and retrofitted into most existing doors; although consideration needs to be taken with the cabling and wiring to these locks as unlike strikes and magnetic locks which require the cabling to be installed inside the wall and frame, they required the cable inside the door itself. This can result in core-hole drilling through a solid door frame and the installation of a transfer hinge to get the cable from the fixed door frame and into the hinged door, all at an additional cost.

The electronic locks that we’ve described above are the most commonly used when locking a door with an access control system and there’s a huge range of electronic locks out there to suit almost any application. If you need advice on electronic locks or how to implement or upgrade and electronic access control system for your building, give Red Flag Systems a call on 1300 685 504.

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