What is an Electronic Lock?
Electronic locks have become increasingly popular for home owners as well as for commercial projects. This lock classification uses an electrical current to lock or unlock a door. The electrical current sends power to an electromagnet, solenoid (electromagnet with a single coil), or a motor. These internal components of the lock actuate it as either fail-safe or fail-secure. A fail-safe lock allows the door to open in the event of an emergency. A fail-secure lock is the opposite of a fail-safe and will stay locked in the event of a power outage. There are unique situations where you might choose one of these electronic lock types over the other to ensure safety or security.
Electronic locks can be stand-alone, or they can operate with an electronic control assembly mounted directly to the lock that connects to an access control system. When an electric lock is connected to an access control system, it is easy to change keys, remotely monitor the lock, and record all transactions. In 2020, the access control market was valued at $7.65 billion USD and is projected to be valued at $11.6 billion USD by 2026. It’s a quick-growing market!
Types of Electronic Locks
Electromagnetic locks are the most frequently used type, and this type is sometimes called a “mag lock.” A large electromagnet is mounted on the door frame, and the corresponding armature is mounted on the door. When the magnet is powered and the door is closed, the armature holds fast to the magnet. This electronic lock is the easiest kind to install and is intrinsically fail-safe. However, the doors will automatically unlock when the current is disrupted so an electromagnetic lock is not fail-secure. These locks have other disadvantages, including being easily picked and being difficult to open when the door is left closed for a long time.
Electric strikes are also called electric latch release locks. In general, this type of lock is used for exiting a building; in most cases, you can open the lock from the inside. Electric strikes can replace a standard strike that is mounted on the door frame and receives the latch and latch bolt. They are easy to install, although some electric strike designs require major door modifications first. This type of lock can be fail-safe or fail-secure, depending on the local building codes and type of structure.
Electronic Deadbolts and Latches
Electric mortise and cylindrical locks are drop-in replacements for door-mounted mechanical locks. To mount this type of lock, an additional hole has to be drilled into the door for electric wires to pass through. Also, a power transfer hinge is often installed to carry the power from the door frame to the door. Electric mortise and cylindrical locks allow mechanical free egress and can be either fail-safe or fail-secure. Electrified hardware is sometimes called “panic-hardware” or “crash bars” and is used at fire exits. When you want to exit, you simply push against the bar to open the door.
Passive Electronic Locks
Passive electronic locks do not need a power supply. Similar to electronic deadbolts, this type of lock is a drop-in replacement for mechanical locks, does not require wiring, and is easy to install. The passive electronic lock integrates a miniature electronic single-chip microcomputer. Then, when you insert a key, it supplies power to the passive electronic lock, reads and records the ID number for verification, and unlocks the door. Passive electronic locks have many advantages and are used in specialty fields such as power and water utilities, public safety, transportation, and data centers.
Programmable locking systems consist of programmable keys, electronic locks, and software. When you have an identification code in one that matches the identification code of the lock (or multiple keys that match the identification code), then all the available keys can unlock the door. The internal structure of a programmable lock contains a cylinder that makes contact with the key, verifies and stores the received ID code, and responds accordingly to lock or unlock the door. A battery often powers the key, which includes electronic storage and a control device for storing the ID code of the lock.
Key tracking software programs the data of each key and lock. There are several benefits to using programmable locks. For example, with only one key, you can open multiple locks rather than needing one key per mechanical device. Also, a single key can contain many lock identification codes, making it easier for a single user to have wider entry permission.
Numerical Codes, Passwords, and Passphrases
The most common type of electronic lock includes a keypad for the user to enter a numerical code or password for authentication. Also, some electronic locks feature an audible response to each press. Code and password combinations are usually between four and six digits long.
Security tokens are physical devices that interface with a lock by scanning or swiping. Some locks can access stored credentials on a personal digital assistant (PDA) or smartphone using infrared, Bluetooth, or Near-Field Communication (NFC) data transfer methods. These locks have a line of sight, and you have to use them within close proximity to the lock.
Biometrics is a form of identification that uses computer science to recognize body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics. As biometrics becomes prominent and accepted in security systems, it is becoming more widely used. For example, some electronic locks operate with technologies such as fingerprint, retinal, or iris scanning and voice print identification to authenticate all users.
RFID, or Radio-Frequency Identification, is used in some modern electronic locks. RFID utilizes electromagnetic fields to identify an object, which you may hear as an “RFID tag.” This method is similar to the security token, except you do not need a direct line of sight for this device to interact with the lock. This technology has been around since the 1970s and is prevalent today due to its use in key cards, fobs, and Bluetooth connections.