What's New in Electronic Access Control

Even older technologies feature cutting-edge improvements

Electronic access control is a vast field of product options, levels of security and potential solutions. Controlling access electronically can be as simple as managing a single door or as complex as managing thousands of doors across many locations. Each of these applications can be accomplished with multiple solutions. This is also true for all the possible applications that exist between these two extremes.

Because of all the possible options, there are many levels of complexity in each given access control application. For this reason, a discussion of new electronic access control solutions becomes difficult to quantify in a single article. I will look at various solutions in more of a generic way vs. specific products and manufacturers. The focus is technology and approaches instead of the hardware and/or software of a given company’s product line.

Single-Door Solutions

Common technologies deployed in a single-door application include a magnetic lock, door strike, door sensor or door position switch, keypad, card reader or combination technology hardware.

Magnetic Locks: Although magnetic locks are not used as widely as they have been in the past, they have improved in several ways, such as, adding monitoring capability, holding strength and anti-tampering functionality. Today’s magnetic locks are smaller in size, use less power and have enhanced aesthetics. Sensors are available within the magnetic lock to indicate proper bonding of the armature plate, an attempt to force the door open for a preset period of time and measure current draw to report improper bonding. Even a camera can be part of the magnetic lock.

Electronic Door Strikes: An alternative to magnetic locks, electronic door strikes are becoming more readily available with multiple voltages (AC and DC) in a single electric strike. This eliminates multiple model numbers and different electric strike models being required to fit a given application. The electronic door strikes are also becoming more universal, requiring less modification to the door for installation. They are available with sensors to verify proper latching of the door lock itself. All these functional improvements provide a better, simpler and easier installation process, which saves time and cost.

Door sensors have evolved to become more varied in size, wiring and types. The standard glass-encapsulated door reed relay type of sensor is available in many lead/connector configurations, mounting options and number of contacts housed in a plastic enclosure. The size, especially of surface mounted sensors, has been reduced and the aesthetics have been improved.
Today’s newest door sensors incorporate a magnetic ball or multiple magnets to minimize failure. Some of these newer door sensor technologies are available for medium- and low-security applications in metal housings, as there have always been balanced magnetic door sensors for high-security applications that are in metal housings and use multiple magnet configurations. High-security door sensors are fairly expensive and are therefore limited to applications such as, government facilities; however, even high-security door sensors have evolved. High-security balanced magnetic door sensors can incorporate a relay that can be activated to test the door sensor without having to manually open a door.

Keypads are available in many aesthetically pleasing configurations from standard keypads, capacitance/piezo keypads and capacitive touch screen keypads. These devices provide additional “built in” intelligence than was available in earlier models. Today, touch screen keypads are available in a narrow mullion mount instead of the older four square box mountings.
Capacitance touch screen keypads have the ability to display a wide variety of information on the screen, including weather, stock updates, graphics, video or other information. It can provide personalized information for a specific user, when an individualized card or PIN is used. Microphones and speakers can be added to allow messages to be recorded and played back — a capability valuable in certain security situations. These screen keypads can also incorporate a proximity or smart card reader.

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