Guide to electromagnetic door locks: electric and magnetic strikes

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Selecting the right type of door locking mechanism is essential to the security of commercial properties. Effective commercial door locks prevent unauthorized access and protect property, people and data. Today, the door locking mechanism is no longer just a combination of physical locks and keys; it’s part of a wider system of access control solutions.

How electromagnetic locks work with your current system

Access control solutions use a variety of keyless door entry methods to grant or deny access to ‘public’ or ‘secure’ areas or resources. Users can present credentials via different types of readers including keypads and devices to support swipe cards, key fobs, proximity cards, mobile credentials, and biometric credentials. Readers communicate with access control software to validate the credentials based on different discretionary or mandatory rules or policies set by a security administrator. The controllers communicate with the electronic locking mechanism to open a door or keep it closed. 

Access control solutions provide many advanced features to make security more effective and manageable. However, the critical element at the heart of these systems is still the door locking device. Today, it’s not keys that operate the door lock, but electromagnetic lock systems, known as ‘electromagnetic strike door locks’.

Two of the most common types of electromagnetic door locks used in access control technology are: 

  • Electric strike door locks 

  • Magnetic strike door locks

Although they provide the same basic functions of door opening and door closing, they differ considerably in their method of operation, features, benefits, and potential drawbacks.

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Enhance door lock security with Openpath

  • Smart door readers easily integrate with electromagnetic locks and strikes

  • Support for mobile, tablet, Apple Watch, key card, and fob credentials

  • Touchless feature using Wave to Unlock for effortless door entry

  • Pro Series Video Readers add visual verification with built-in cameras

  • Frictionless, fast unlocks with support for digital visitor Guest Pass

  • Sleek award-winning hardware design that elevates the design of any space

  • Easy installation with standard wiring and PoE connectivity

Assessing commercial door electromagnetic locks

Before looking at electric strike vs electric lock and comparing an electric strike lock with magnetic locking systems, it’s important to understand how a commercial door electromagnetic lock works.

Any security magnetic lock mechanism used in a commercial environment must meet a number of criteria that differentiate them from domestic door locks. The locks must provide the right level of security and they must be able to perform reliably as heavy duty magnetic locks or under heavy use. A magnetic door opener must have fail-safe or fail-secure features to protect property and people in the event of power outages, and they must meet compliance requirements. Cost is also an important factor. 

Security

Strength and durability

A commercial electromagnetic lock must have the strength and durability to withstand wear and tear from thousands of uses and continue to operate reliably over long service lives. To ensure the lock will meet its duties, it should meet one of the internationally recognized grades for locks.

Holding force

As the function of the lock is to prevent unauthorized entry, it must have a strong holding force so it cannot be forced open. How strong are magnetic door locks? Well, holding force typically covers a range from 60 kilograms for low security doors to 545 kilograms for high-security applications. 

Fail-safe or fail-secure?

Electro-mechanical locks rely on electricity to function, so it’s essential that they incorporate fail-safe or fail-secure technology to maintain functionality and provide a door release system if a power outage occurs. 

Fail-secure locks

Fail-secure locks require power to unlock the door. If there is a power outage, the door will remain locked and no users can enter, even if they have valid credentials. 

Fail-secure locks are essential for areas that must remain secure in all circumstances, such as server rooms, IT suites, storage areas holding confidential information or high-value equipment, and research labs. 

Although a fail-secure magnetic lock maintains security, it may be important to retain access for authorized users. In that case, the lock should be provided with a back-up power source or a battery. 

Fail-secure locks prevent unauthorized access in the event of a power outage. However, as a safety measure, they can allow users to exit from the inside 

Fail-safe locks

Fail-safe locks require power to stay locked. If there is a power outage, the door will open to any user, regardless of their authority to enter. 

Fail-safe locks are essential where safety is the most important requirement — an area where users must be able to open a door in all circumstances. That makes them the right choice for emergency exits or doors to stairwells. 

If fail-safe locks are used for areas where a level of security is required, back-up power sources can be fitted to restrict access to unauthorized users. 

Compliance 

Door locks may be subject to federal, state or local regulations, as well as industry-specific regulations, so it is important to ensure that the lock is compliant. While most building or fire regulations are safety-related to ensure users can exit easily and safely, industry or customer-specific regulations may require locks to remain operational to maintain security levels.

For example, customers may specify through service level agreements or contracts that any confidential business data is fully secured at all times. In industries such as healthcare, personal data must be secured at all times. 

Costs

Cost is an important factor in selecting a door lock, but it should not be a priority. Purchase price is not the only consideration; any financial calculations should take whole life costs into consideration. These include:

  • Purchase price

  • Installation 

  • Operational costs

  • Maintenance and repair

  • Replacement costs

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Electric or magnetic strike locks

To decide on the most suitable type of lock for different applications, it’s important to take all the criteria into account. Magnetic strike locks, or mag locks as they’re also known, may be suitable for certain areas, but a comprehensive review of all the criteria may lead to a decision to install both a commercial mag lock (commercial magnetic door lock) and electric strike locks for different applications in a building.

Electric strike door locks 

An electric strike door lock is a type of electro-mechanical door locking device. They perform the functions of a mechanical lock, but are powered by electricity. You can get an electric strike for double doors and standard doors. Availability of electric power also makes it possible to incorporate additional functionality beyond basic locking and unlocking. So, how do electric strikes work?

Installation

Curious about electric door strike installation? An electric strike is installed on the inside of a door frame where it replaces a standard door lock strike plate. A hinged piece of metal, similar to a conventional strike plate, provides the ‘latch’. The electric motor and cabling are also installed on the inside of the door frame to form an electric strike plate lock. Installation must be precise and may require the services of a skilled, specialist installer.

Operation

A small motor on the strike is connected to a power supply and the current holds the strike plate in the locked position to keep the door closed and secured. When a door system submits a signal to release the lock, the strike place pivots allowing an authorized user to open the door.

An electric strike plate lock can be used in conjunction with different types of access control, including keypads (keypad magnetic lock), proximity systems, electronic key cards, and RFID access cards.

Fail-safe or fail-secure modes

Are magnetic door locks safe? Are mag locks fail secure? Are mag locks fail safe?

Electric door strike locks can operate in either fail-safe or fail-secure mode in the event of a power outage. While fail-safe is the default mode, electric strike fail-secure locks can be operated by using a switch, provided back-up power or battery supply is available. 

Application 

Electric strikes secure one side of the door. Anyone on the outside of the door requires authorization to open it. However, anyone on the inside of the door can open it. That makes electric strikes suitable for doors where access only has to be monitored and controlled in one direction. 

Electric strikes can be operated in fail-secure mode, which enables them to remain locked in the event of a power outage. This makes them suitable for doors that protect secure areas. 

Benefits 

Affordable – Electric strikes cost less to purchase than magnetic security locks, although more complex installation may add to overall costs.

Single-sided security – This is a practical, affordable solution for doors that only need to control access in one direction.

No exit delays – Doors can be easily opened from the inside, making it easy for users to leave an area. 

Increased security – If the power goes out, doors with electric locks will remain securely locked. However, for safety reasons, anyone inside the building can unlock the door by pressing the panic bar.

Simple functionality – The lock does not require any modification to the locking mechanism. The strike plate replaces the standard latch and operates in the same way as a mechanical lock.

Flexible The lock can be operated in fail-safe or fail-secure mode. 

Disadvantages 

Complex installation The locks must be fitted with great precision, generally by a specialist installer. 

Unsuitable door frames – Electric strikes must be precisely matched to the hardware on the door. Some types of door frames may not be suitable for this type of lock.

Risk of tampering – The locks are visible to the door user (unlike hidden magnetic locks), which can make it more susceptible to tampering.

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Magnetic strike door locks

Magnetic strike door locks, also known as mag locks, an electronic magnetic door lock, or a magnetic door striker, are a type of electromagnetic door locking device. 

So, how do magnetic door locks work? Mag locks for doors do not operate like a conventional door strikes security plate. Instead, an electromagnet attached to the door frame bonds to a plate on the door when an electric current passes through the electromagnet. This bonding keeps the door locked. To open the door for an authorized user, the access system cuts the power, breaking the bond.

Installation

A large electromagnet is attached to the face of the doorframe, generally at the top of the door. A metal armature plate is installed on the face of the door to align with the electromagnet. 

The electromagnet is connected to a permanent power supply, with a back-up power source, such as a battery, in place if necessary. Installation is relatively simple and does not generally require a specialist installer.

Operation

A mag lock operates in conjunction with access control. The locking device is permanently connected to a power supply that energizes the electromagnet to keep the door securely locked. A heavy-duty magnetic lock, for example, can provide a holding force of more than 1200 pounds. The holding force of the lock can be increased or reduced by changing the strength of the current.  

When an access system submits a signal to release the door or activates the magnetic release latch, it cuts the power supply to the electromagnet allowing the user to open the door. A magnetic lock can be used as part of most access control systems activated by key pads, key fob or key card door locks, proximity devices and biometric systems.

Fail-safe or fail-secure mode

Magnetic strike door locks only operate in fail-safe mode because they depend on a permanent power supply. If there is a power outage, the magnetic force is released and the door can be opened from either side.  A back-up power supply is therefore essential to protect secure areas.

Advantages of Openpath’s cloud-based access control system

  • Fully remote management of every location, site, and user

  • Simple, easy to use interface with real-time logs and custom dashboards

  • Open API standards for effortless integration with all your systems and tools

  • Stay secure with automatic software updates and end-to-end encryption

  • Enhanced mobile monitoring with the all-in-one Video Intercom Reader Pro

  • 99.9% unlock reliability with patented Triple Unlock technology

  • Sleek award-winning hardware design that elevates the design of any space

Applications

Mag locks provide strong security to restrict access on both sides of the door. That, combined with their strong holding force, makes them suitable for protecting secure areas. However, because they lack fail-secure properties, they must be provided with a reliable back-up power supply in areas where high security is a priority. They can also be used in lower security areas where lock failure would not cause a serious problem. 

Benefits 

  • Strong security – Mag locks can withstand up to 1200 pounds of force, providing great protection for secure areas. 

  • Double-sided security – Mag locks can control access on both sides of the door, unlike electric strikes which only secure one side.

  • Flexible security – Holding force can be adjusted by changing the current, which makes the locks suitable for a wide range of applications.

  • Easy installation – Mag locks are easier to install than electric strikes and don’t require a specialist installer. This can help to reduce overall costs.

  • Reliability – The structure of a mag lock with two components and no components means less wear and tear and long service reliability. 

  • Easy release – The door unlocks instantly when the access control system triggers a cut to the power supply.

Drawbacks

  • Constant power supply – A magnetic door lock system requires a constant supply of power to maintain security. A building can be vulnerable if a power outage occurs

  • Battery maintenance – To ensure continuity of security, a back-up battery system must be regularly inspected and replaced, increasing maintenance and through-life costs.

  • Fail-safe only – Mag locks are only available in fail-safe mode, potentially limiting their application in high-security areas. 

  • Risk of tampering – Like electric strikes, mag locks are visible, increasing the risk of tampering.

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Selecting door locks for your business

This review of electric strike locks and magnetic locks for doors shows that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to selecting an electromagnetic lock system for commercial property.

Before selecting electromagnetic locks for doors, it’s important to audit the doors and access points throughout the building to identify their main role and their current level of performance. 

Is the priority for the locking system safety or security? If safety is the most important function for the door, the locking mechanism must be easy to use with fail-safe properties that allow opening, even if there is a power outage.

If the door is protecting a secure area, locking performance is the most important consideration and the lock must continue to remain closed under all circumstances.  That makes a lock with fail-secure properties essential. 

Traffic flow is another important consideration. In some areas, there may be a two-way flow of traffic that has to be monitored and managed in both directions. Here, a lock that supports access control security on both sides is important. 

In areas where the highest level of security is required, managing access in one direction is the priority and the focus should be on a lock that provides the strongest holding force. 

Traffic volume can also be a factor when it comes to mag lock vs electric strike or selecting a mag lock door system. High volumes can accelerate wear and tear and increase maintenance costs, so a door lock with no moving parts can provide longer reliable service life. 

Both electric strike locks and magnetic door locks can meet these requirements in different ways, so it may be beneficial to take a ‘mix and match’ approach to ensure that each door has the most appropriate locking system. 

If you would like advice or guidance on the most suitable door lock system for your business, contact Openpath to arrange a security consultation.

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