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Broader scope for electronic access control.

Salto Systems : 02 August, 2007  (Technical Article)
Dean Pendlebury of Salto Systems explains how premises can become smarter by replacing mechanical locking systems with electronic access control.
Take a look around and you will see that great examples of design are everywhere. Stylish new cars, sleek luxury boats, contemporary furniture, state-of-the art lighting systems and so on. The list is endless. But when it comes to most homes and buildings things are not quite so 'cutting edge'.

If great design is all around us then why hasn't much of it appeared in the mainstream housing market? The design of the average house found on most new developments throughout the country has not altered much in the last 200 years. Take away the advent of things such as double glazing, conservatories, insulation and more modern building materials and the actual shape and function of the structure is pretty much unchanged. Never mind 2007, as far as housing design goes it could still be 1807!

There are designs out there that show how things could go but they are mostly one off projects.

The EcoHouse is the country's first environmental show home containing hundreds of environmentally-friendly features including a solar thermal system which provides 50% of the energy needed for water heating. Another example is a small housing association development in Brixton, south London, built to minimise carbon emissions. This features a number of energy saving technologies including super-insulation, solar panels to provide hot water and a boiler that runs using non-fossil, renewable fuels.

So where is the mainstream smart home?' Where is the blue-skies thinking that can take advantage of all the best in modern design and technology and produce an innovative, super efficient house that meets the needs of people today - not yesterday.

When you consider this and smart design, many of the big house building companies could learn a thing or two from the commercial sector. Here, particularly in the new build and refurbishment market, there are many examples of 21st century design using efficient modern materials and the latest technology to create truly smart buildings.

Take 30 St Mary Axe in London, better known as The Gherkin. This building has been described as the most ingenious and elegant new skyscraper to be built anywhere in the world for the last 30 years. It is designed to use the latest technology to maximise daylight penetration by reducing the time that artificial lighting is required. In addition to this, light level and movement sensors prevent unnecessary use of the lighting in order to reduce energy consumption. The building also features a ventilated double skin facade that reduces its heating and cooling requirements and its aerodynamic design also reduces the requirement for conventional air conditioning, resulting in less energy consumption and lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Another example is the futuristic and award winning T-Centre, the most striking building on the Vienna skyline. This too uses the latest materials in its glass, steel and concrete construction to maximize light while retaining heat as well as employing several energy saving technologies.

What both of these buildings have in common is their use of smart design, materials and technology to improve their efficiency as well as making them more comfortable places to work in for the people who use them.

This philosophy also extends to their security. When so much of their design and materials are new why would they want to compromise that by using old fashioned mechanical locks and keys that are cumbersome, dirty, time consuming and expensive to replace if key security is breached.

Instead they have chosen to use electronic access control systems that not only provide secure access but also have the ability to interact with additional devices such as energy savers to further enhance their 'smart' credentials.

Flexibility is the key to success when it comes to installing an access control system in a building, particularly if it's a commercial building. It has to be able to adapt easily to the changing of tenants as they come and go. New companies usually want to move staff in quickly and they want their system to be able to change and expand easily as they take on more space.

When you think about it, shouldn't this be the case with residential housing too! Why is it that almost every residential house in the country still uses old fashioned mechanical locks and keys, even if they are insurance approved five lever mortice locks when lighter, slimmer, more adaptable, easy to fit electronic based systems are available! Just because houses have always used mechanical key based systems because historically that's all there was is no reason to continue with the same product for ever. Especially when changing technology can show us a better, smarter way of doing things. It's going to need a sea change in the thinking of the house building companies to effect change, but since price is no longer an issue why aren't they fitting smart locks in place of mechanical locks and educating buyers on the benefits of modern electronic access based systems.

Think of the benefits of not having to carry around a bunch of house keys with one or more keys for the front door, one for the back door, one for the garage etc but instead just have one credit card sized key in your purse or wallet that operates all the locks on all the doors. And if you add an extension or a conservatory the locks on those doors can also be added to the same system and operated with the same single card, not add yet more keys to an already big bunch.

Wherever and however it is used though, a good access control system should always be to reduce the time needed to manage it, without the loss of functionality, flexibility, control and security. At Salto we've developed our Salto Virtual Network (SVN) with just this aim. It can revolutionise the problems associated with traditional key control, eliminating the need to replace locks when key or code security is breached due to the loss or theft of keys or codes. And, in addition to this it can manage up to 60,000 users and up to 60,000 doors in the same system if needed and allow key cards and locks to be updated, restricted or deleted remotely.

This is really useful in a building where the access profile of users can change frequently. For example in a university lecturers do not always use the same classroom, and students may need access to laboratory facilities or other study areas only on certain days at certain times. And over in the commercial world too there can be many cases where changes to the access profile can be frequent. A typical example might be an employee that requires permanent access to some areas, but only temporary access to others such as meeting rooms, stock rooms etc. In both examples this is where the SVN system really scores. Its adaptability to rapidly changing access profiles allows users to build-in additional security with automatic updating and modification of personalised key expiry dates adding real value to the access management of the building.

A really neat touch is that with such a system, locks can be configured so that when an able bodied person presents their card the door unlocks and it can then be pulled open manually. However, if a disabled person presents their card, thanks to the way it was configured upon issue, the door will not only unlock but the built-in automatic opener will then electronically open the door. Such selective use is not only DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) friendly but also saves on wear and tear.

And if you take this flexibility a step further and add in the extra capability of working with other technologies such as Energy Saving Devices (ESD's) then it's little wonder that a smart system offers so many advantages. Energy Saving Devices can help to save up to 30% of a room's electricity consumption and they are compact and quick to install, so if a building wants to achieve better ratings in the new Energy in Buildings performance directive efficiency Part L legislation, there are significant savings and benefits to be had.

I'm hopeful that we're going to see increasing examples of smart building practices and technology crossing from the commercial sector into the residential sector and that one day, alongside energy savings and more carbon efficient methods of construction we'll be able to say goodbye to the humble long serving mechanical lock and key, wish it a happy retirement and see smart state of the art electronic access control with all its many benefits being used in every building - both residential and commercial.
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