Door Hardware’s Future Looks Smart

RFID readers and electrified locks that store entries are changing the fundamentals of door hardware

Technology is on the move, and there’s not one facet of life that isn’t affected. You can see the new trends in TV, laptops, cars, and cell phones every day. Now it’s time to make way for technology in door hardware and locks. Door hardware is going through a technological evolution similar to consumer electronics.


Ernie Mitchell, director of engineering for Saflok, points out that, over the years, the industry has capitalized on the advancement of chip technologies, and new developments are allowing equipment to be mass produced more efficiently, and increasing battery life and memory of electronic door locks.


In fact, with the changes in the cost of memory, the industry now offers locking systems that can record and store up to 5,900 entries.


Aside from electrified locks that store entries, there’s another front that’s changing the fundamentals of door hardware: the movement from key cards with magnetic stripe readers to radio frequency identification (RFID) readers.


While RFID products have been in the residential market for years, the technology is opening more doors – literally – in the hospitality market, as well as in many other commercial buildings, that could take advantage of the multi-sector abilities of RFID readers.


With different sectors, you can use the same RFID card to get into rooms that have restricted access, as a point-of-sales card for purchases in any on-site stores, and as an elevator card that might have a third-party reader.


 “Another big thing is the use of radios in locks for wireless access control and centralized databases,” Mitchell says. “We’re adding features that allow you to interrogate entire databases rather than going to individual locks. That’s beneficial to hotels because they can do things like allow a key card to work for multiple rooms on different days – without having to get new keys made.”


These wireless door locks use ZigBee technology, which offers low-powered wireless control. Mitchell describes it as “the next generation of Bluetooth” that offers a longer range for devices that have a lower bandwidth. While it can’t carry voices, this technology can be used to become part of “smart” property systems.

Hardware Installation

When installing any kind of electrified door hardware, you should make sure it’s proper hardware from the start.


The ANSI/BHMA A156.25-2007 American National Standard for Electrified Locking Devices establishes requirements that control door access, and includes definitions, general information, and tests (required equipment and procedures), building upon certified mechanical hardware. “BHMA members are incorporating electronic features into all kinds of hardware, from residential to commercial to institutional,” says BHMA Standards Coordinator Michael Tierney.


With this technology, there is one central controller that manages several devices in the room, including the door locks. The door locks sync to the controller, and when a specific key is used to open the lock, it relays the information when the door is opened.


“Suppose a door lock senses a ‘guest key,’ ” Mitchell explains. “It’ll send a message that will activate a guest set-up that could be defined to turn on the TV, dim the lights, or turn on the air conditioner. There could also be a ‘housekeeper key’ that tells the room when it’s clean and shuts everything off when the guest leaves.”


For safety, this same technology can alert the proper person if a door was left open or if the battery life on the lock is running low.


Michael McCoy, product manager for Stanley Security Solutions, admits that he’s never witnessed such sweeping changes in door hardware as those he’s seen in the last few years. “The single biggest shift has been on the electronic side of things,” McCoy says. “We’ve made steps in the past, but nothing as major as what we have currently.”


It’s hard to predict exactly what’s in store for door hardware in the future, but Mitchell has a few ideas of where it may be headed. “The next thing we’re going to see: credentials that are non-card based. With your BlackBerry, you’ll be able to check into a hotel, open the door to your room, or buy a drink from the vending machine.”


Ralph Vasami is the executive director for the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA).