A New Era in Locks

Oct. 27, 2008
The product genre is changing; here's what it means for dealers

In 1979 a British band called The Buggles released the song, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and it has since been re-made multiple times and remains popular to this day.   An upbeat song from a rhythmic standpoint, the actual lyrics are sad -- they speak of dreams cut short by a change in technology, the migration from radio to video, and ultimately the passing of an era.      

A parallel can be drawn to today's access control market where mechanical locks are being replaced by electronic locks.   This technological shift is most noticeable in commercial settings, especially large-scale offices where electronic access control is becoming the norm, but it also is extending to automobiles and even homes.   However, for security dealers and integrators, this isn't something to get sad about.   It's an opportunity to make access control more convenient, more efficient and more profitable.    

“When dealers and integrators look at electronic access control, they need to look at it from the door out,” said Andy Geremia , product manager, Schlage Electronics, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, Colorado Springs , Colo. “We all need to be especially cognizant that a user might need a mechanical lock today but require a basic standalone electronic locking solution in the future.”

Looking at the big picture, Geremia urged dealers to approach access control with an eye to the future, allowing customers to later add credentials such as proximity or smart cards, video integration or even a networked system deploying both wired and wireless access. “Users need an easy migration path from one technology to the next and that's what dealers and integrators should implement from the get-go,” he explained. “It will keep them in good stead with their customers by showing them how they are able to expand customers' present systems instead of pulling out the old to install the new.”

Electronic locks are changing

Electronic locks are becoming smaller, more power-efficient, easily integrated with network solutions and in some cases simpler to install and maintain. As such, electronic locks are being deployed for a wider variety of installations.

“Electronic locks are becoming significantly more sophisticated in terms of capability and small size,” said Joseph Kingma, director of Business Development, e-Cylinders, ASSA ABLOY Retrofit Security Solutions, Medeco Security Locks Inc., Salem, Va. “ These improvements add value to dealers in terms of enabling them to offer a more robust access package to meet end-user needs and reduce the overall installation liability that can result from door and frame modifications.”

According to Martin Huddart, vice president, Electronic Access Control, ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions, New Haven, Conn., electronic locks represent one of the most lucrative segments of the access control market.  “Due to lower costs of processors and memory, electronic locks give end users many alternatives to traditional mechanical locks, and now even mechanical cylinders, for managing who has access to the opening and at what time.”  

Huddart added that many high-end locks have been introduced that communicate with a networked access control system (Wiegand /RS 485 connections, wireless connections and direct Power over Ethernet).  “These locks have converged multiple devices into a single component that saves time and money for the installer,” he noted. “The dealer who understands how to use these products to secure more openings for the end user's budget will gain more loyalty and make more profit.”

Convergence continues

“No longer are the door's hardware components merely individual entities,” said Geremia, explaining that as more components become electrified, access control functions join with egress hardware and sensors monitor the functions of mechanical hardware. “In a networked system, for example, a malfunctioning closer or latch is reported at once, which lets maintenance activities be directed when and where they are most needed.”

In the past, electronic access control generally required running wires from a power source (wherever it was located) all the way to the door. However, today the standalone options are not only increasing in number, they are increasing in capabilities.

“Standalone electronic locks are now available with a variety of card technologies and can be integrated with a networked system without having to run wires to the lock,” said Mark Allen, manager, Product Management and Marketing, Kaba Access Control, Winston-Salem, N.C. Another improvement in electronic locks is the power-consumption efficiency, he said, noting that standalone electronic locks can now go three to five years without changing the battery.

Compared to hardwired electronic devices, standalone electronic locks make a better retrofit option because they're easier for a dealer to install and very profitable, said Bob Swoope , vice president, Alarm Lock, Amityville , N.Y. “ Standalone locks are being substituted for hardwired access on a regular basis.  They have really the same features,” he added.

Multi-family and more?

While the electronic lock market still finds dominance in commercial installations, there is some movement to residential applications.  

“ Electronic locks are migrating from commercial to residential in a logical, methodical way,” said Geremia . “Everybody understands how electronic locks are used in commercial applications, but in the past few years you have seen them used more and more in multi-family buildings.   That's literally putting them on the periphery of the residential market.   Over the next couple years, you will begin seeing more and more builders adding them to their buildings in new construction projects, both commercial and residential.”

Geremia also noted that more electronic locks are tailored for the residential market. “The new Schlage keypad locks and deadbolts offer homeowners the freedom to control access without having to worry about hiding, losing, carrying or forgetting keys,” he explained. “They are ideal for providing consumers with keyless access control for entryways, home offices, storage areas, interior garage doors, wine cellars and basement stairways.”  

“ As electronic locks have become trusted as a reliable and flexible way to manage access rights, many commercial installations have adopted them either for partial or complete deployment,” said Kingma . “The cost-to-benefit ratio is still a bit steep for many residential applications, causing slower adoption for many homeowners—but that will change over time.”

On the other hand, Huddart believes both the residential and commercial electronic lock markets are at a tipping point right now. “While residential was a late starter, recent product introductions have demonstrated the market is ready for the right product at the right price point,” he said. “Consumers have become more accepting and comfortable with technology that makes their life more convenient.”  

Huddart has a relatively optimistic view of electronic locks moving into the residential market.   He predicted, “On a unit basis I think we may actually see the residential market overtake the commercial market in the near term.”

Given the speed with which landline phones, compact discs and video tapes are disappearing from homes, anything seems possible. It's hard to know exactly when, but it does seem to only be a matter of time before “electronic kills the mechanical star” in the access control market.