Recognizing the e-cylinder advantages

Why does Germany like the e-cylinder so much? And what is it about the e-cylinder that makes it a good choice for Germany and other countries?

“Eighty percent of the cylinders we deliver within our VERSO Master Key Systems are now electro-mechanical CLIQ cylinders,” says Alexander Kroll, Product Manager CLIQ at ASSA ABLOY Sicherheitstechnik in Germany, “and only 20% are purely mechanical systems.”

CLIQ is a technology developed by ASSA ABLOY, which allows chips to be built into both cylinder and key, while maintaining the traditional mechanical characteristics of the cylinder. ASSA ABLOY subsidiary companies can apply the CLIQ technology to their own range of cylinders, ensuring that the new cylinders work within local and regional standards. The electronically improved cylinders are known as e-cylinders, and in Germany, they have really taken off.

“One reason is the history of the German market,” explains Michael Buchholz, Sales Manager, Operative Sales, for the German company.  “Germany has always been the largest market for mechanical Master Key Systems.”

Bucholz puts that partly down to the traditional German respect for engineering and a fondness of technological possibilities, but he also points out that Germans tend to like structures. “A Master Key System (MKS) is very structured. It creates a hierarchy of access rights, which is reflected in the pins, and tumblers of a cylinder lock.”

Changing with the times
But, with their love for Master Key Systems, Germans have also got to know the problems. “One problem is when keys are lost,” says Buchholz, “especially the master key.” Then there is no alternative: the whole system has to be replaced. The cylinder lock was itself a solution to this problem, since it meant that one only had to change the cylinder and not the whole lock, but in a big company, the cost of replacing all the cylinders can be substantial.

The other problem relates to a characteristic of modern business life.  “You look in the paper every day, and you read about companies restructuring,” Buchholz notes.  A mechanical MKS may reflect a hierarchy, but if the hierarchy keeps changing, the MKS has to change with it. And that means new cylinders.

Or at least it used to. With e-cylinders, only the chip needs to be reprogrammed, and the new hierarchy is taken care of.

The CLIQ system is a combination of electronic and mechanical features. “The lock-chart is determined by the software,” says Kroll. The cylinders are programmed with a “programming key” with special rights to change settings. That has the advantage that the whole system does not need to be wired to a central computer, as does an electronic access system.

Best of both worlds
But CLIQ is not an electronic access system. It allows many of the best characteristics of both systems to be combined. For example, toilets, kitchens and storerooms may not need the kind of electronic-access control that is needed for offices or operations rooms. So such rooms can have simple mechanical cylinders which can be opened by the mechanical function of the e-cylinder keys.

Kroll advises companies to use a common mechanical profile for locks in one department, so that if someone moves office within a department, only the chip needs to be reprogrammed. It’s far less likely that someone will move from, let’s say, personnel to purchasing, but if they do, they’d need a new key, since the mechanical profile of the locks in the two departments would be different. But the cylinder would not have to be changed, even if the former occupant of the office left without returning the key.

One advantage, which is unique to the CLIQ system, is that the battery is in the key. Kroll says that fits human psychology: “If the battery is in the cylinder, you notice the ‘low battery’ light is flashing when you go in; you think you’ll report it; and you forget it by the time you get to your desk.  But if the ‘low battery’ light is flashing on your key, you’ll do something about it.”

Not just for Germany
In addition, it means the system can be used for locks in remote places, which may be accessed infrequently, so that there would be no regular control of a battery in the cylinder.

Although Germany is way ahead of the rest of the world, other countries, like France, Switzerland and the US, are also starting to show very promising results. The Benelux countries are also moving forward. On the other hand, some countries, like China, are more interested in card-based Electronic Access Control solutions. “And then there are the countries in Eastern Europe, especially Russia, which could well be the market of the future,” Kroll says.

Kroll adds it has taken more than an excellent idea to make the e-cylinder a hit in Germany: “It’s also got something to do with the way we took it to market,” he explains. “It’s only sold over our network of trained and licensed dealers.”

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