To fully understand what electric door locks are and how they work, we need to look at their technical operations, how they compare to traditional locks, what their advantages and disadvantages are, whether they are safe and the distinct types of locks.
What is an electric lock?
Electric locks of any kind, whether used on a car, front door or any other entry, work using one of two methods. The first type is an electromagnetic lock, the second is an alteration of traditional locking systems.
An electromagnetic lock or maglock uses a powerful magnet and an armature plate. An electrical current is passed through the magnet, which clamps onto the armature plate. There are no levers, knobs, pins or other moving parts in one of these systems.
Some electric locking systems augment or replace traditional locks. They use an electrical input to move a latch or bolt into position to secure or open a door. There are several different types of lock but they all use the same principle.
How does a maglock work?
When an electrical current is passed through an electromagnet, something called a magnetic flux is created. If the electromagnet is covered in metal, this flux becomes stronger. When the metal covered electromagnet (attached to the door) is in contact with the armature plate (attached to the doorframe) and turned on, it attracts the plate with a great deal of force, locking the door.
How does a traditional lock with electrical components work?
In a traditional lock, a bolt or lever in the door slides into place in the doorframe and is held there by a series of pins in the lock itself. When a key is inserted, the pins are moved into a specific order that allows the bolt or lever to be moved or secured, locking or unlocking the door. There are electrical systems that use very small motors to either secure or release the bolt or latch in the lock. These systems typically use something other than a key to secure or release the bolt.
In both systems, there is no need for a traditional key. Other methods like keycards, biometric scanners or RFID tags are used to instruct a small computer in the locking mechanism to send the electrical system the instruction to lock or unlock a door.
What are the different types of electrical locking methods?
One of the major differences between electrical locking systems and traditional ones is that a traditional system must use a key and lock combo to lock and unlock a door. An electrical locking system can accept a specific electrical signal that could come from several different sources.
Biometrics are a popular and secure method of allowing access to a lock. A small computer is installed on the lock itself. Attached to the computer is a scanner that takes a person’s information, either their fingerprint or a picture of their eye, and compares it to the information it has stored. If a person has access to the lock, a record of their biometric information will be found by the computer and it will send the release signal to the lock. This is one of the most secure methods of access control because it keeps track of exactly who has opened a lock and when. It is incredibly difficult to give false credentials to modern biometric scanners.
Password or passcode systems will have a small computer attached to the lock that has a number pad or keyboard attached to them. When someone enters a sequence of numbers or letters, the computer will compare the input to the code that is stored in its memory. If the code entered and the code in memory are the same, the computer will send the lock or unlock signal to the lock.
RFID or Radio Frequency Identification chips are one of the most popular methods of securing locks. An RFID chip is a very small device that has information stored on it, that can be read by an RFID reader. Due to their size, RFID chips could be attached to ID badges that employees may need to carry. An RFID reader is attached to the locking computer, it scans the area around it for RFID chips with the correct information. Once it finds a chip at a certain distance (usually a few feet from the door) is will send the signal to the lock to open the door.
Are electronic locks safe?
Some people are concerned that electronic locks are unsafe, what happens if the power to the lock is cut off? Does it stay locked or does it automatically open?
Fortunately, the answer is either. All electronic locks are either fail-safe or fail-secure. Fail-safe locks will automatically open if the power is cut off. This method is usually used on fire escapes or locks that could cause harm if they are locked in an emergency. Fail-secure locks will automatically lock if the power is removed, they are usually found on safes.