Door Hardware Technology Moves Toward Fewer Touchpoints

By Tara Taffera

Long before the coronavirus (COVID-19) reared its head in China, many of the industry’s suppliers offered antimicrobial coatings as part of their hardware lines—the virus just may have upped the urgency of those products and spurred increased inquires. COVID-19 also seemed to speed up another accelerating trend—the move toward more automated entries, thus limiting the touchpoints on door hardware.

Hardware experts with whom we spoke are already receiving increased inquiries from those working on schools, hospitals, and other public places. Ben Smith, vice president of marketing and ecommerce for Banner Solutions, a distributor of hardware products, puts it simply.

“Pre-COVID-19 you grabbed a door differently than you do post-COVID-19,” he says. “At the forefront of everyone’s mind is how we can create more touchless interaction.”

There are many ways to get there, our experts say, from increased automation, to finishes or coatings that help stop the spread of germs.

Consider Coatings and Finishes

When working on a project and specifying hardware, how do you know which finish to use to lessen the spread of germs, and whether or not you need an antimicrobial coating? And what exactly does that mean?

According to Qianyan Cheng, co-founder and vice president of product development for INOX, the presence of such a coating indicates the surface will be able to continuously provide protection where it prevents the microbes to sustain on the surface.

Are these even needed, or will a naturally antimicrobial finish do the job? The experts we spoke to pointed out that copper, for example, has antimicrobial properties, meaning it can kill microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses. Additionally, copper-containing metals like brass have antibacterial properties, as well, but the finishes erode over time and need to be replaced.

All this proves that there are a variety of materials out there to help building owners and specifiers, and these have been in existence well before COVID-19 from many companies, including INOX, among others. The company has offered MicroArmor since 2018 which it describes as a powder coating infused with antimicrobial technology that is applied during the hardware’s manufacturing process and works to inhibit the growth and reproduction of harmful bacteria, mold and mildew by up to 99.9%.

Cheng says it was originally designed for public transport areas, until world events changed all that.

“The pandemic happened and we thought we should expand the offerings, so we have been actively holding trainings with our sales team and current distributors who have access to projects in sectors such as hospital, residential, commercial and healthcare,” she says. “We are talking to spec writers and educating them about how this coating could help.”

Unlike a spray or disinfectant, this is infused in the coating so it permanently stays there and produces a 24/7 continuous protection, she adds.

“Some hotel developers are using the time to renovate and think of ways to improve the infrastructure,” says Cheng. “They have an increased mindset of health and safety; and antimicrobial door hardware will reduce cleaning time and costs spent on extensive disinfections.”

Experts at dormakaba Americas are also seeing this increased interest in products with antimicrobial properties. Dan Stewart, business development manager at BEST Access Solutions, a part of dormakaba Americas, says brass and copper have innate antiviral properties so there is a shift toward these types of materials.

“There is a balancing act [of these finishes] versus the antimicrobial,” he says. “We have to find the happy medium.”

Stewart’s colleague, Curtis Massey, interior glass systems product manager, points out some drawbacks, however.

“The challenge we have within glass specifically is that the customer wants these finishes to be lacquered,” he says. “So if they want to take advantage of brass and bronze alloys they have to leave them uncoated.”

Massey says we will see a large push toward antimicrobial coatings applied to surfaces in the factory or in the field. He even predicts some requirements in certain areas down the line.

Smith says that, pre-COVID-19, attention was paid to automation of entries, but more from a standpoint of assisting in egress and along the lines of meeting ADA requirements.

“Absolutely we were looking at more automation in entryways, such as how do we make it easy to get in and out, but there was probably still a touchpoint,” he says. “Now, that has changed significantly as we try to eliminate the spread of germs.”

Cheng points out that pre-COVID-19 architects and specifiers had already been specifying more sliding doors and electronic locks, which she says helps limit those touchpoints.

Experts also refer to technology such as card readers and keyless hardware, but the problem is it is not touchless when it comes to access.

“The keyless hardware has existed for a long time,” says Cheng. “But for a lot of the swing doors you still have to grab the handle. The trend will move toward truly touchless where both the lock and door will open or close automatically.”

Is Keyless the Answer?

Stewart says dormakaba definitely sees the market moving toward contactless mediums, for example using a cell phone with a unique identifier, to access an opening using Bluetooth technology.

“There is still a significant installed base of electronic readers that require physical interaction like a magnetic stripe reader,” he says. But the tide is changing.

“We have some customers who have mandated the change from an old reader to a new one that will support Bluetooth to access locking devices.”

dormakaba launched the Switch Tech platform in March 2020 which extends electronic access control by offering a digital replacement for mechanical keys and mechanical small format interchangeable cores, commonly referred to as SFICs. The line utilizes Bluetooth technology where users simply unlock the core using their smartphones or BLE fobs.

While options such as this have existed for years, it comes with a bigger price tag.

“Over the last several years, prices have already started coming down around those solutions and as more and more manufacturers get smart solutions the price continues to come down as the marketplace gets more saturated,” says Stewart.

Meeting Needs in a New Normal

No matter what a building owner is looking for when it comes to limiting touchpoints, the hardware suppliers have been prepared for this new era.

Take ASSA ABLOY Glass Solutions for example. The company’s website states that “Contact-free doors are becoming essential in today’s landscape. Healthcare facilities, office buildings, convention centers, and other public spaces are a breeding ground for germs. The less we touch, the less likely we are to transfer germs from person-to-person.”

Banner Solutions has assembled an Electronic Access Control (EAC) team, bringing together a number of people who were acutely familiar with glass industry.

“We brought on a team of EAC experts who can take on every opening and say here is what you can do to meet NFPA, ADA and secure the opening,” says Smith. “Someone can come to us and say, ‘Hey I have an opening, and what will my options look like if we want to make this touchless? Can you guide me to the right solution?’ We want our customers to know they don’t have to have the answers as it won’t be a one product fits all.”

Tara Taffera is the editorial director for USGlass magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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