Definition and History
The term, "keyless lock", is somewhat of a misnomer because most so-called keyless locks do, in fact, have keys. When referring to a lock of this type, one calls it a key override option. When people say keyless lock they usually really mean stand-alone keypad-operated lock, but keyless lock is so much easier to say.
The keyless lock is not a new idea. The Simplex company was producing mechanical push-button locks decades ago. Since then the company has changed hands several times and is now called DormaKaba, yet still produces models it produced in decades past. One of the earliest pushbutton mechanical locks was the Simplex 900 series, still made by Kaba-Ilco today.
Nowadays there are a staggering variety of keyless locks. We'll go over some of the many varieties here.
Mechanical Pushbutton Keyless Locks
Mechanical pushbutton keyless locks are combination locks. Push the buttons in a certain order and enter. A mechanical combination lock is capable of retaining one combination, or code, at a time, so everyone who uses the lock uses the same code. Some of the first keyless locks I encountered in my career were the Simplex 900 series latch and deadbolt locks. They are easily recognizable by their distinctive teardrop shaped faceplate (see picture below).
The Simplex 900 can be set to combinations of one to five digits, or two digits at once followed by single digits. These locks were used extensively on restrooms in government office buildings.
The popularity of the Simplex 900 encouraged Simplex to develop first the 1000 series (a doorknob lock, not shown), then the L1000 series (shown immediately below) that became the industry standard for keyless locks for decades. It is still widely used today. Since the 1000 series doorknob lock does not comply with the American Disabilities Act, it is used much less often then the lever version.
At one time most of the United States Post Offices in the U.S. had the exit device trim version of the L1000, called the LP1000, coupled with a Von Duprin 22 series rim device on the back door. More recently, however, the Post Office has opted for much more complex security.
Below the L1000 is pictured the 5000 series with its distinctive "ENTER" button, representing the current generation of keyless mechanical combination locks. It has been gaining popularity steadily over the years. The exit device trim model works with the widest variety of exit devices of any lock in its class. The "ENTER" button was an innovation that eliminated the clutch mechanism that is one of the most failure-prone parts of the older L1000 series.
At the bottom of the set of photos is the Lockey 2385 lever lock, representing new lines of keyless mechanical combination locks that have sprung up to compete with the Simplex. Lockey features marine grade mechanical combination locks - great for use at marinas or for locking up a swimming pool enclosure. There are several relatively new companies producing good quality mechanical combination door locks. Codelock is another such company.
Mechanical combination locks can only be set to one combination at a time. Therefore all users of the lock use the same combination. One downside to this limitation is that when users punch the same buttons over and over again every day, the buttons wear out. For example, say your combination is one, three, five. Over time, if you never change the combination and use the lock a lot, the mechanisms behind those buttons will wear out. Also the numbers themselves may show wear, making your combination visibly apparent - a factor that can compromise security, but one that is easily avoided by changing the combination every few months.
Standalone Keyless Locks
Standalone keyless locks can be programmed from the keypad and without interaction with external software.
With the revolution in electronics, electronic pushbutton locks came on the scene. One of the leaders in this area continues to be the Alarm Lock division of Napco. They make the Trilogy series of keyless locks. You can see the basic models listed in the first photo below.
Electronic pushbutton keyless locks offer multiple codes, and depending on the model you select, can offer all the features of a full-featured access control system, including audit trail and time zone capabilities. Different models have been designed to accept pin codes (via keypad), proximity cards and fobs, radio transmission, or input from a smart phone via Bluetooth or the Internet.
Basic electronic locks have a keypad through which they are programmed and operated. The simplest ones support 100 individual codes and allow the adding and deleting of users via the keypad. One can also control the amount of time between unlock and relock, or set a code to leave the lock in "passage mode," that is, unlocked until such time as the passage mode code is input a second time.
The next step up in the Trilogy line is 2000 available codes with the DL3200. The DL3000 and DL3200 models offer full access control capability at the lock. That is, one visits the lock to program it or to download the audit trail. This tier of products is kind of between standalone and full fledged access control. They offer all the features, but one still has to visit them to program them.
If you actually have 1000 or more users, you probably need multiple locks, and visiting each of them to program them all every time there is a turnover of personnel could be more work than you want to do. On the other hand, this is one of the least expensive ways to have an access control system that offers advanced features like time zones and audit trail.
Unlike the DL2700 and DL2800, all series above these offer models that accept proximity credentials - prox cards or fobs. These credentials act much like a key; that is, the user must carry the credential and the credential must interact with the lock before access is granted. In a sense that kind of negates the "keyless lock" idea. But the biggest difference between prox credentials and keys is the prox credentials identify the user to the access control system, allowing features like time zones and audit trail to exist.
Quick Overview of Commercial Access Control Electronic Locks
Below the photo of the Trilogy line, next in line is the Alarmlock Networx line. Locks in the Networx category interface with a wifi router that connects them in real time with Alarmlock (or other) access control software. Using Networx, one has all the features that any top tier access control system offers and can control it from their desk.
The third photo below pictures the Schlage Electronics AD series. Schlage also offers the CO series locks that are comparable with Alarmlock or other standalone keyless locks. The primary difference between lower tier AD series locks and CO series locks is the number of users they will accommodate. Mixed in with both series are locks that can be integrated with legacy magnetic swipe card systems such as one finds at universities.
Below the AD series locks in the following set of photos is pictured a Corbin Russwin IN120 series lock, representing the myriad keyless locks available from the family of Assa Abloy companies - the largest multinational door hardware group in the world. Below that we see that Simplex is still in the act with its Eplex line of electronic locks. These are the companies I am most familiar with. There are many others.
Many companies offer keyless locks that can be added to an existing access control system. The AD and IN120 series, for example, are designed to easily (and wirelessly) integrate into existing access control systems created and sold by other companies. This technological breakthrough greatly reduces the need to run wire in order to expand an access control system - a huge advantage. However, if one adds third party hardware to an existing access control system, they may face stiff licensing fees from the original access control manufacturer. Most major access control manufacturers can provide these locks through their network of installers. For more information contact your access control company.
Schlage NDE Series
The Schlage NDE Series cylindrical and LE Series locks are commercial grade locks that can be controlled through a smart phone via Bluetooth, networked via wifi into a small access control system or integrated into another manufacturer's access control system (licensing fees may apply). As such they serve as a great bridge for this article to transition from commercial to residential applications as these locks are relevant to both.
Residential Keyless Locks
The residential keyless lock market has grown huge, and myriad choices are available, ranging from the simple Simplex lock shown in the last photo below to locks that you can control over the internet and/or via your smart phone.
Simplex (now DormaKaba) mechanical pushbutton combination locks are still very popular choices because of their simplicity and because they are relatively inexpensive. One user-changeable combination. Press the buttons in the right order and enter. Simple.
There are an incredible variety of residential electronic keyless locks on the market today. They range from keypad operated deadbolts and lever entry sets that may or may not be able to re-lock themselves to models you can integrate with your smart home system along with your heating and other systems. Many manufacturers offer many, many different options. A few are shown below.
One thing to remember about all battery-operated electronic locks is that they are, well, battery operated. This means that at some point the batteries will go dead and so will the electronic lock. This is when the key override option becomes important.
May you always feel secure.