Keys are a thing of the past.

They are no longer necessary to enter a home, office, or start a car. Even locked cabinets and drawers can utilize an access control system without requiring physical keys.   

Recent innovations and rapidly falling prices have revolutionized the access control market, giving businesses and homeowners more viable options than ever before. Homeowners can now utilize whole home automation to remotely control locks, security cameras, thermostats, and appliances. Business owners enjoy access to stronger security measures using high tech systems without exorbitant costs.   

The new designs eliminate many of the weaknesses found in previous models, leading to explosive demand for innovative solutions. Now it’s possible to have it all. A system that is easy and convenient to use while providing higher levels of security.

Today’s electronic locks offer targeted security by requiring users to input credentials before entering a building, elevator, office, or file cabinet. The ability to control access down to a desk drawer increases flexibility and strengthens security for businesses and homeowners who need to protect information, valuables, or cash. Due to rapidly changing technology, however, not all systems provide equal levels of protection. 

The variance in electronic locks includes the type of current used to operate the system. While all electronic locks use an electrical current, some locks employ an electromagnet with a single coil whereas other locks operate with a motor. In addition, electronic locks utilize either fail-safe or fail-secure technology. Understanding these differences can help consumers choose the right electronic lock for their application needs. 

Understanding the Differences Between Fail-Safe Locks and Fail-Secure Locks

Fail-safe locks default to the unlocked position. The unit requires electrical power to activate the locking mechanism and secure the door. Without an active power source, the system remains open until the restoration of power occurs.   

The locks rely on a magnetic force to operate. When active, the electromagnetic force provides a strong bond preventing break-ins. However, the need for continuous power to keep the lock in place presents a significant vulnerability. An act of nature, intentional power disruption, or system sabotage can leave valuables susceptible to theft.

Best used for low-security needs. Fail-safe technology offers more protection than traditional locks. Due to the necessity of power, however, it is susceptible to sabotage, making it the best choice for low-to-medium security needs. For example, apartment complexes and hotels often use a fail-safe lock to secure pools or resort amenities. The goal of this security is to limit the use of its facilities to residents or guests. A security breach, resulting in a non-resident using the pool, gym, or tennis court, does not typically come at a high cost. In addition to locked facilities, hotels and apartments often employ other security measures such as security guards or cameras to monitor activity in these areas, further diminishing the need for higher levels of security.  

Fail-secure locks default to the locked position, requiring power to release the door. Power failure does not automatically create a security breach because the access control remains in the locked position until a restoration of power or an override occurs.

When used in a location where people work or live, companies must also install a bypass or an emergency release system to allow those inside to leave. Panic bars are a frequent solution, which will release the lock in the event of a shutdown. When using fail-secure locks to protect valuables or confidential data, companies can also integrate a system override allowing authorized personnel to access secure areas during a power failure.

Best used for high-security needs. Fail-secure technology offers the highest level of security, making it the top choice for businesses and homeowners wishing to protect valuables or sensitive data. For example, businesses favor fail-secure technology to protect file cabinets, desks, and display cases containing confidential information or valuable assets. Healthcare organizations use fail-secure locks to guard patient files and pharmaceuticals. Retail stores use fail-secure technology to safeguard inventory such as jewelry, electronics, computers, and technology held in display cases.

Understanding the Differences Between E-Locks and Maglocks

Beyond choosing a fail-safe or fail-secure locking design, electronic access controls can use either electromagnetic or electromechanical technology. Both locking systems offer a keyless entry using electronic locks. Users can present a keycard, fob, card swipe, wristband, smartphone, or another device to activate and secure the lock. 

Electromagnetic Locks (also called Maglocks)

Maglocks operate using an electromagnet, which is a magnet that requires electricity. The electrical current creates a magnetic field. Changing the flow of the current will alter the strength of the lock. 

Each lock contains three key components: an electromagnet plate, an armature plate, and the catch securing the lock. The electromagnetic plate attaches to the top or side of the door and the corresponding frame. An electric current activates the magnetic force to secure the lock.   

Electromagnetic locks are easy to install and simple to operate because they have no interconnecting parts. Provided there is a continual electrical current, the lock offers a high level of security that is difficult to open with brute force.  

These locks are only available using fail-safe technology. In addition to the weakness of unlocking in the event of a power failure, another vulnerability is the ability to “trick” the system into registering as secure. For example, someone could activate the lock with proper credentials, and then place another magnet on the armature plate. The system would log as locked even though the door is ajar.   

Electromechanical Locks (also called E-Locks or Electric Strike Locks)

The Electric Strike Lock utilizes a motor instead of magnetic force to secure the lock in place. It can operate as either fail-safe or fail-secure, depending on the system and the application. The electric strike, using fail-secure technology, will default to the locked position in the event of a power failure. The bolt will only retract with proper verification and presentation of the correct credentials. Some locks have a manual override for emergencies.

Electromechanical locks offer higher levels of security because of the fail-secure design. The system can operate as a stand-alone unit or as part of a more extensive security network.

Choosing the Right Electronic Lock

Installing an electronic access control system requires selecting the best technology for each unique application.

Electromagnetic locks operate using fail-safe technology and require electrical power to keep the lock in place. These locks are best for addressing low-to-medium security risks.  

Electromechanical locks can operate using either fail-safe or fail-secure technology and are often used in high-security applications. When a company or homeowner seeks to protect confidential data, valuable assets, or inventory, electromechanical locks often provide the most secure solution.   

Learn more about Senseon’s electromechanical locking solutions by visiting our Electronic Locks page.