Access Control System Fundamentals – What You Need to Know

Access Control System Basics – Components of Access Control

Want to install access control on a door of your business? What components do you need to buy for access control?

All access control systems can be broken down into the following components: a locking device, card/fob access device, a credential reader device, power supply, controller software, override device, and an emergency exit device. These devices may be individual components or combined into one or more components.

Narrow Style Aluminum Storefront DoorIn our blog article, “How Much Does Access Control Cost we broke down the three types of readily available small business access control systems. In order of complexity: stand alone device, wired stand alone systems, and wired complex systems.

Our company focus is on stand alone or few-door wired systems. Basically we support small businesses. If you are looking for small business access control solution, this article tells you everything you need to know. Small business solutions are ideal when you only have a few doors.

They are much less expensive than systems that come with super advanced features your small business won’t need. Large business keyless systems will need every component mentioned above and additional components if wiring into an alarm/camera system and to support battery backup if desired.

Wired 1-2 Door Systems

Example of Access Control Components

Wired systems for only a few doors are now becoming more widespread. The advantage to this system is that, though there is wiring at the door, they are not directly tied into AC power. Instead they get power from using a standard plug-in transformer. This eliminates the need to hire an electrician or locksmith to connect the final system.

The great news about these systems is that manufactures are now selling them as kits with included color-coded wiring diagrams. If you are doing this yourself, check out the kits on Amazon for pricing.

They also usually combine the software needed to control access into the card/fob scanner for efficiency. All credentials are programmed at the external card reader.

The components are:

Credential Reader: Mounted externally to grant access. Access can be made when the proper credential (either a pin code, a card, or a Fob) are presented to the reader. This triggers the release of the locking device.

mag lockThe Locking Device: Holds the door closed when you don’t want people freely gaining entry to the door. In the example shown, we are releasing the door with an electronic strike. When the proper credentials are entered the latch on the strike is released the so door can be pushed open.

You could also use a magnetic lock installed on the door to hold it closed. In this case a piece of metal is secured to the top of the door and a strong magnet is secured to the top of the door frame. When the two meet, they cannot be separated.

Power Supply: In this case just a plug in transformer.

Controller Software: For programming and storage of credential information, scheduling, dates, etc…Sometimes it is a separate program, but here is it contained within the credential reader. Combining devices like this into one unit saves money.

Override Switch: A Keyed switch that will release the door in the event of a failure.

Exit Devices: The system shown has two such devices. One is a motion detector. When someone approaches the door to exit the sensor will automatically release the locking device. The second system is a push to exit device. In most cities having two exit devices such as this is required for fire code in case one fails.






All of these devices must be wired together properly to work. Depending on the system you choose and the type of door you have, you may be able to handle this task. The more you add to your system, the more likely it will be that you will want a professional locksmith company to install the components.

In general, for standard doors, using magnetic locks, most handy people could complete the installation. If you are using electronic strikes as the locking device or installing on an aluminum storefront door (as pictured above) you really should consider hiring a local locksmith.

Narrow Style Glass Aluminum Storefront Door

Advantages: In addition to being priced right, for the most common situations they can be user installed on a standard door. You also gain the ability to buzz people in using an RF device like the remote and receiver shown in the image. You can ONLY do this on aluminum storefront doors when you use this type of a system. No stand alone access control lock on the market today allow you to buzz-in clients on a narrow-style storefront door.

Disadvantages: Much more difficult to install than a stand alone device. Since the software is typically built into the reader, audit trail support (a report of who entered and when) is not available. It will require locksmith installation for aluminum storefront doors and complex component systems.


Components of a Stand Alone, Non Wired Access Control System

Total components: 1 per door if using PIN code. That’s what’s great about the stand alone systems! Everything you need is integrated in a single lock to control the door.

The power supply is the batteries installed within the lock. The locking device is the latch within the lock, the credential reader is either a card reader or the keypad within the lock, the controller (programming of the lock) is within the lock, and the emergency exit is a function of the lock as well (simply turn the handle of the lock to get out. Should the device fail, a key override is included.

Because everything is within one access control device, the devices tend to be expensive. However, you save a ton of money when you consider you are NOT buying individual components and you are not paying a locksmith to install individual components are wire everything together.

If you are only interested in basic features and are installing these on a standard door, they can in most cases be easily installed and program by yourself. If you are getting into advanced features (scheduling, audit trail, etc….) and can complicate self-installation but it’s doable, but most people opt to hire a locksmith once they’ve gone beyond simple PIN codes.

If you are installing on a glass aluminum store front door, you will certainly want an experienced locksmith.

Comparison of the Stand Alone Access Control Products We Recommend

  • Marks I-QwikPrice it on Amazon
  • Pin Keyless EntryAdvantages: We love this product and use it often. The base unit, for a standard door, is the least expensive commercial grade lock available for a no-frills access control lock. It is a commercial grade 1, and I have yet to see one fail after running a locksmith company for 12 years. It supports PIN codes and can be upgraded to support cards and fobs if desired. There are versions of this lock that support a panic bar (crash) bar on the inside of the door to exit. Weather proof on both sides for exterior gate applications.

    Disadvantages: All programming must be done at the lock, which is fine for a few users. But for many users you need to maintain a record of access PIN numbers, or FOBs, if you want to remove those from the lock later. There is no audit trail option. It must be installed on a normal-type of door (this eliminates it for use on those glass/aluminum narrow style storefront doors that are very common).

  • Alarm Lock / TrilogyPrice it on Amazon
  • Trilogy DL1300 Narrow Style Keyless EntryAdvantages: The baseline product has all the same advantages as the Marks I-QWIK, just in a more expensive package. It is the most common and well-tested of the electronic stand alone access control locks. You can find these locks everywhere.

    There are many options that include auto trail, buzz in capability (when installed on a standard door), card/FOB support, scheduling, computer programming and auto trail. There are versions of this lock that support a panic bar (crash) bar on the inside of the door to exit. There is an add-on that allows you to remotely buzz people in (when installed on a standard door). Weather proof on both sides for exterior gate applications.

    This lock is also the only stand alone lock we use for supporting narrow style aluminum storefront doors. There are very few stand alone locks that support those doors and this is our favorite. Look for the DL1200 and DL1300 series.

    Disadvantages: All the options with this lock quickly increase it’s price. There is no buzz in support for the narrow style glass aluminum doors but except for that feature all other features are supported for narrow style aluminum storefront doors (it is the only stand alone lock we use on those type of doors).

    To run audit trail and to program the lock, via a laptop, software, an interface cable and a laptop need to be purchased. The software is installed on the laptop and it is then taken out to the lock for programming or retrieval of an audit trail. If you have a lot of users and multiple doors, the additional cost to support this is spread out per door, so it’s not too bad. For single doors this becomes a very expensive option but may be your only option for narrow style doors.

  • Schlage NDEPrice it on Amazon
  • Bluetooth Schlage NDE Wifi LockAdvantages: This is our favorite lock for doors that support standard sized door hardware. It is the least expensive lock when you want everything you can get. It supports audit trail, up to 5000 users, scheduling, etc… and can be controlled/programmed by your phone via Bluetooth or a wireless connection.

    Disadvantages: If you just need the “meat and potatoes” (single pin-code entry in a commercial grade lock) this lock costs quite a bit more than the other options. There is no support support for narrow style storefront doors or doors with panic bars installed.





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