Why battery-free locking systems beat the rest in utilities

10 min read

The management of mechanical keys is a challenge for any installation with many doors and users. It’s impossible to prevent unauthorized copying of keys, many keys are in circulation, huge costs are incurred when cylinders need to be changed if a key is lost, and levels of security are low because the security code – the shape of the key – is visible to anyone.

For utilities, these problems are multiplied exponentially as they have thousands of accesses spread over vast areas and with hundreds of users (not always identified in advance) who must access sites occasionally and often without planning. It’s vital for site managers to provide an immediate response in an emergency and precious time is wasted when service personnel have to travel between the administration office and the site to get the key.

What’s the alternative? A digital locking system. However, be careful about the technology you choose as there are two main categories of digital lock – those that require batteries and those that don’t.

Battery-powered key-based digital locking systems

These types of system solve many of the problems associated with mechanical locks: several keys are not required, and they cannot be copied. With a single key, users have access to multiple locations. The access rights of the key can be changed as required. In some cases, by means of dedicated devices connected to the administrator’s PC, in other cases, by synchronizing the key via Bluetooth with a mobile phone.

However, this type of digital locking system does not remove the key from the equation, meaning that a dedicated device (the physical key) is required to open the lock. The logistics cost of collecting and returning the keys remains. In addition, security is compromised since, in the event of theft, it is difficult to remove the access rights of the key. To minimize this risk, access rights are made to expire after a few days. This means that users to have to constantly renew them.

An even bigger problem is maintenance. Batteries are required, either in the cylinder or in the key. The cost of having to change thousands of batteries in cylinders in remote locations is enough to prevent utilities from investing in these kinds of digital locking systemsChanging batteries in the keys is simpler, but it still requires users to be aware of when the battery needs to be changed. There is nothing worse than travelling hundreds of kilometers to do maintenance on a site and then finding out the battery in your key is dead and you have no access.

If you do decide to go for a key-based digital locking system, iLOQ’s S5 is an entirely battery- and cable-free solution. The power needed to open the locks is generated by the physical motion of inserting the key into the lock. Access rights to these keys can be quickly and easily programmed, updated and cancelled using iLOQ’s programming system. The advanced device-to-device communication feature in iLOQ S5 allows a vast amount of data to be remotely updated and then shared between readers, keys and locks in a building. Data is updated every time a door is opened. Information, such as access rights, time limitations, lists of blocked keys and audit trails, is quickly shared between the devices before the door is unlocked. With all devices connected and communicating with each other, iLOQ S5 keeps access rights information continually up to date. You can read more about iLOQ S5 here.

As mentioned earlier, it’s also possible to update access rights of a digital key by synchronizing the key via Bluetooth with a mobile phone. But, if you’re using a mobile phone to synchronize access rightswhy not just use your mobile device itself to open the lock?

Battery-powered digital locks opened using mobile phone’s Bluetooth 

With digital locks that can be opened using the Bluetooth functionality on a mobile phone, the fact that a physical key is not required makes operations extremely flexible. Any operator in the field can have a virtual digital key at hand and carry out maintenance work immediately. Intervention times are greatly reduced, and they can react quickly to unforeseen incidents on site while reinforcing security by eliminating the risk of unauthorized key copies.

In addition, digital locks that can be opened using a mobile phone have a major advantage over those that use mechanical or digital keys: they provide the operator with real-time information on who is opening what, where and at what time.

The main disadvantage of these digital locks is that, once again, they require a battery in the cylinder. The batteries usually run out, on average, after a couple of years. However, the actual life of the battery depends on many factors, the two most relevant being the number of openings and exposure to extreme temperature ranges. This means that not all the batteries in the utility need to be changed at the same time, so the manager is not only maintaining the sites, but also all the locks!

Even with the enormous maintenance cost of digital locks that can be opened using Bluetooth, they are much better for utilities than those using physical keys. However, when talking about Total Cost of Operation (TCO), the best option is a battery-free locking system where digital locks can be opened using NFC.

Battery-free digital locks opened using a mobile phone’s NFC 

Digital locks can also be opened with an NFC-enabled mobile phone. The difference between these kinds of locks and those opened using Bluetooth is that they do not require a battery. The lock harvests the electricity needed for opening from the mobile phone’s NFC induction. In this way, the mobile phone is not just the keyit is also the power source. Utilities are quickly realizing that the benefits of a battery-free locking solution significantly outweigh a battery-powered system, and the payback in terms of operational efficiency and lifecycle cost savings is huge.

These battery-free locks are maintenance-freePhysical keys are not required; access rights can be sent remotely, in real time, to anyone with an NFC-enabled mobile phone. The locks work reliably, regardless of the number of openings, temperature ranges or harsh environment of the location. And they provide realtime information about who has had access to what areas and when.

If the lifecycle of the various digital lock alternatives is analyzed for example, over a 10year period (using a TCO analysis), it becomes clear that locks opened using NFC have virtually no operational cost as they do not require battery replacement maintenance.

In 2016, iLOQ developed the firstlock cylinder to harvest energy for unlocking from an NFC-enabled smartphone and it is currently being deployed by major utilities around the world. iLOQ S50 offers the needed security paired with efficient over-the-air access sharing that eases operating logistics and reduces travel- and maintenance-related costs associated with battery-powered digital locksAccess rights to all property locks can be shared and managed easily with one cloud-based, secure software program – consolidating access management onto one platform. iLOQ S50 helps utilities keep track of who has access to what with features like time-restricted access, instant granting and revoking of access rights and real-time audit trail reports. You can read more about iLOQ S50 here.

Don’t hesitate to contact iLOQ for some free advice or leave a comment in the box below – we’re here to help.

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