The cam lock comes of age
With the latest evolution for the most humble of security systems, safeguarding your facility’s cabinetry just became a whole lot more convenient, writes STUART SMITH.
Anyone who has ever been in charge of any sort of facility where storage cupboards or secure cabinets are part of the fabric will be familiar with the cam lock. Everything from the lockers at your gym or educational facility to the medicine cabinets in hospitals and clinics can be secured with them. A cam lock is simply a fastener often used in cabinet construction and many other types of furniture that is designed for the cabinet or cupboard to be held securely without having its outward appearance affected.
At their core they are cylindrical fasteners – the cam is a shaped piece of metal or plastic fixed to a rotating shaft. A cam mechanism on the other hand comprises three main components – the cam, the slider and the follower. As the camshaft rotates, it turns the cam, which in turn affects the follower – a rod that rests on the edge of the turning cam.
Mechanical cam locks have been around for many, many years. Typically their use has been in OEM (original equipment manufacturer) applications – primarily lockers, but also filing cabinets, letterboxes, medical cabinets and hospital bedside lockers, where patients can store their valuables etc. They are comparatively lightweight solutions; these are not the sorts of locks you’d see on construction or entry doors, nor the sort that would stand up long against someone taking a crowbar to them or hacking away with a screwdriver. Fundamentally designed for internal not external use, cam locks are not high-security locks in terms of their physical robustness, but they are generally more than adequate for users’ needs.
The downside to them is that previously they were mechanical in operation, which for a facility manager meant dealing with keys – often many keys – and these were keys that could be lost or passed on to unauthorised users. Whenever this happened it would mean the facility or property manager found themselves faced with needing to go and override the lock, or use a master key. If they could find the master key!
The actual technology behind these old mechanical locks was quite basic. They would normally have a number on the front of them indicating the code of the lock, which meant the master keys would be readily available – impacting security levels further.
What would often happen is that locker locks would never be changed or updated, but stay for the life of the locker, meaning any number of ex employees or temporary facility users could have keys to fit – making management of the system disorganised at best, a security nightmare at worst.
But now the whole process has been made much simpler with the advent of the digital cam lock. What this means is that keys are no longer necessary at all, and the cam lock is operated via PINs (personal identification numbers). Streamlining the system and making it much more convenient, digital cam locks mean that a PIN can override the system instantaneously or facility managers can simply change or issue new PINs on the spot, even for new users or new staff members. This has a positive impact on security because there is now no chance of an old key being used to access a system by an unauthorised user.
Apart from the digital element, everything else about this new evolution in the cam lock space has been kept deliberately simple and straightforward. And this is an additional benefit for facility and property managers. The best new products on the market aren’t hard-wired. They’re not part of any specific system and they can be retrofitted into existing systems. The features are simple and the lock is easy to use. They are inexpensive to implement and are compatible with existing access systems, perhaps utilising existing RFID (radio-frequency identification) models. But even if they are being operated with just a PIN, their convenience means everything can be done on the spot. Powered by three AAA batteries, they are extremely straightforward and for facility managers with a bank of mechanical lockers in their facility, a replacement bank of digital cam lock lockers can be put straight in with just the addition of a five-millimetre hole.
Easy to fit and simple to mount, digital cam locks such as the ML5000 series can be put in place where an existing cam lock is sited. They require one screw, one bolt and one nut, which goes over the cam lock itself. On the back there is an eight-millimetre square drive and on top of this it’s possible to mount whatever cam is preferred. The ML5000 comes with two versions – the flat cam and the offset cam – but if neither meets requirements it’s a fairly standard cam size, so typically facility managers are able to utilise their existing cams.
The digital cam lock’s simple mechanism and operation mean there is plenty of room for further innovation in this space. As with the rest of the digital locking world, it’s a hop, skip and a jump from using PIN codes to operate the digital cam lock to using credentials on your smartphone or other smart device. In the same way, having a similar design adapted for locks that are intended to be used externally is no doubt on the radar too. Time will tell, but whatever comes next greater convenience and ease of use for facility managers is assured. ●
Stuart Smith is a product manager at ASSA ABLOY.
This article also appears in the December/January issue of FM magazine.
Images courtesy of ASSA ABLOY.