Hands Free

Door Hardware Creates Fewer Touchpoints Amid the Pandemic

By Tara Taffera

Many of the industry’s suppliers offered antimicrobial coatings as part of their hardware lines long before the COVID-19 pandemic began—the virus just upped the urgency for 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 is the vice president of marketing and ecommerce for Banner Solutions, a distributor of hardware products based in Kansas City, Mo. He puts it simply.

“Pre-COVID you grabbed a door differently than you do post-COVID,” 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 of Sacramento, Calif., the presence of such a coating indicates the surface will be able to provide protection continuously by preventing the microbes from sustaining life on the surface.

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

Smith adds that while copper alloy-based products do come at a higher cost, they don’t lose their effectiveness over the life of the product.

All this proves that there are a variety of materials out there that reduce the spread of germs and that these were available from many companies well before COVID-19. INOX, for  example, has offered MicroArmor since 2018. It describes the product as a powder coating infused with antimicrobial technology applied during the manufacturing process that works to inhibit the growth and reproduction of harmful bacteria, mold and mildew by up to 99.9%.

Cheng says it was designed originally for public transport areas, such as subway systems and airports, 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 residential, commercial and healthcare,” she says.

Unlike a spray or disinfectant, this is infused in the coating so it stays there permanently and produces a 24/7 continuous protection, she adds. For this reason, those in hospitality are showing interest as well.

“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; antimicrobial door hardware will reduce cleaning time and costs spent on extensive disinfections.”

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

There are some drawbacks though, which Stewart’s colleague, Curtis Massey, interior glass systems product manager, points out.

“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 there will be a large push toward antimicrobial coatings applied to surfaces in the factory or in the field. He even predicts the addition of requirements in certain areas down the line.

“I have heard some jurisdictions will require brass and bronze be used for pull hardware and you will see this anywhere you have lots of people such as colleges, hospitals, airports and hotels,” he says.

Smith also has heard rumblings of early legislation that some new construction will be required to include antimicrobial coatings or products that enable people to get through the door without having to touch it.

According to a market research report published by MarketsandMarkets, the global antimicrobial coatings market is projected to grow from $3.3 billion in 2020 to $5.6 billion by 2025 with a compound annual growth rate of 10.7% during that period.

Enter Automation

Here is where that continued trend toward automation comes in, as it has only increased in recent months. Smith says that, pre-COVID-19, attention was paid to automation of entries, but more from a standpoint of assisting in egress and 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.

“We started working with a new set of clients, along with door manufacturers and, as COVID-19 happened they are now all looking for this to be the standard,” she says. “This leads me to believe that an antimicrobial coating may become the code for many commercial applications just as the fire code has allowed for emergency egress.”

Is Keyless the Answer?

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

“The trend will move toward truly touchless where both the lock and door will open or close automatically,” says Cheng.

Stewart says dormakaba 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 uses Bluetooth technology where users simply unlock the core using their smartphones or BLE fobs.

While options such as this have existed for years, as is often the case, they come 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.

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 of Rockwood, Pa., for example. The company’s website states that “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 are 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 and ADA and secure the opening,’” says Smith. “… We want our customers to know they don’t have to have the answers as it won’t be one-product-fits-all.”

Tara Taffera is the vice president of editorial services for Key Media & Research, parent company to Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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