DN Staff

March 11, 2002

4 Min Read
Electronics are the key to cabinet access

In these security-conscious times, it's more important than ever to prevent the wrong person from tinkering with your industrial enclosures. To clamp down on unauthorized cabinet entry, Dirak Inc. has developed a new access-control system based on electromechanical swinghandle latches. Called E-LINE, the system replaces dumb keys with a variety of smart security features. "E-LINE can tell you who opened the latch, what time they opened it, and how long it stayed open," says Armin Fink, Dirak's European manager.

E-LINE latches make use of a small servomotor to open and close a lock mechanism that otherwise resembles the mechanical locks used in Dirak's modular swinghandles. "The physical security of the system doesn't change, because the lock bolt has the same size and shape as the bolts in our mechanical models," Fink explains. But the electronic nature of the lock does enable a host of access-control options not found on traditional key or combination locks, including remote access and networking capabilities.

Springing the latch. Dirak offers several means of actuating the lock, including keypads and codes, proximity cards, voice actuation, messages sent from cell phones (SMS), fingerprint recognition, and retina scanning. Fink expects that most enclosure applications will use the keypad access, which would be the lowest-cost method at roughly $150/latch (with the exact pricing depending on volume). Each of these keypad latches supports as many as 25 four-digit codes and one eight-digit master code. A color-coded LED indicates lock status. For roughly the same price, Dirak can also supply the system with proximity cards that can be used with or without the keypads.

Fink argues that these keypad-based systems will be especially attractive for applications that now use a master key system. Not only are the upfront costs comparable, he says, but the E-LINE also promises a lower cost of ownership. "If you fire just one person with a master key, you may have to re-key every lock cylinder in your facility," he says. And he cites a recent incident in which a missing master key at the airport in Dusseldorf, Germany triggered $300,000 in lock replacement charges. "With an electromechanical lock, you would just reprogram the locks."

High-tech lock opening options may prove a bit pricey for ordinary industrial enclosures. Fink says the retina-scanning option could cost as much as $500 per latch, while fingerprint recognition could cost up to $250. "At first, our customers all said they wanted fingerprint recognition and retina scanning," Fink recalls. "But when they learned about the price, they said 'That's too much security'." Still, for those with "mission critical" enclosures to protect, Dirak will offer these biometric control options using equipment from Siemens.

Network capable. While each E-line latch can be operated individually, the system's greatest value as an access control system comes from its ability to tie all the latches into a network. Dirak can supply the E-LINE with a small rack-mounted server that watches over as many as 32 latches, connecting them via Ethernet. A forthcoming server will handle 128 latches, but for now the network can be scaled up only by adding more servers, each costing about $450, Fink says.

Users can tap into the latch network using Internet-based software developed by Dirak. Running within an ordinary Web browser, the software allows users to open latches remotely. "You can open a latch from anywhere in the world as long as you have an Internet connection," Fink says. The software also logs details about every cabinet opening-who went into a cabinet and how long they kept it open. Fink adds that the software can be configured for personal computers and handhelds.

Squeezing it in. Since all the extra security features on the E-LINE are electronic they haven't affected latch size by much. Dirak engineers picked a 12-mm servomotor to drive the lock, rather than a bulkier magnetic actuator. As a result, E-LINE latches fit into the same cutout as the company's other modular latches. The shared cutout size for Dirak's mechanical and electromechanical latches could help users offer several latching and security options without changing enclosure designs. "It's no problem to have one cutout and decide later whether to install a mechanical or electronic lock," Fink says.

The use of a servomotor also keeps the power requirements to a minimum. E-LINE latches run on a standard 110/230V-ac circuit and need 70 mA of current. According to Fink, the magnetically actuated designs that Dirak first considered required 250 mA. As a backup, an off-the-shelf 9V battery can also spring the electronic latches. "Just touch the battery to a pair of external contacts and enter your code to open the latch," says Fink.

Dirak will introduce the new E-LINE this month at the National Design Engineering Show in Chicago.

For more information about electronic latches from Dirak Inc.: Enter 534

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