The ‘touchless workspace’ could change doors, locks, thermostats and building systems
Within months of creating an automatic door division, Bunting Door & Hardware Company suddenly found itself awash in requests for new installations and upgrades.
Based on previous levels of automatic door projects at Bunting and its subsidiary LOKTEK, “we were thinking the division would be pretty busy. But about three months ago when the COIVD-19 outbreak started, our phones blew up,” said Frank Gunther, Chief Marketing Officer. “Before COVID-19, people weren’t very interested in touchless switches for door operators. They just wanted a push button. Now suddenly, everyone has changed their minds.”
That sudden desire for automatic doors with touchless activation is part of the current drive to remove high-contact controls (and potential disease vectors) from office buildings, healthcare facilities, public buildings and nearly any other structure that is used by large numbers of people.
At Bunting and LOKTEK, that trend has translated into calls from customers looking to replace or upgrade building entrances, warehouse doors, conference room doors, cross-corridor doors and restroom doors. It has even strengthened the popularity of barn doors in urban-style offices, but with the added requirement that the rustic doors be outfitted with touchless, automated systems.
Available touchless door technologies are both user-friendly and easy to install, Gunther said. For many systems, access cards and key fobs are recognized when they move within range of a door. The carrier then simply has to wave at a touchless activation switch or walk within range of a motion sensor to open the door. Other systems link to smart phone apps that unlock and open doors for authorized users and even open elevator doors without requiring the user to press a button.
“Most of the door keypads and sensors, like touchless activation switches, can be wireless so you can install them without hard wiring,” Gunther said. Installation crews simply have to hardwire the central operating panel that controls the entire system.
The systems can be pricey. Bunting recently estimated the cost of installing 140 automatic doors at a hospital at just over $2 million. Heightened interest in automatic doors and touchless activation switches has swamped some suppliers, increasing the wait time for some parts from the typical of one week to as much as eight weeks. Project planning and installation also requires heightened technical skills, including the ability to create more complex wiring plans and to integrate the door operators with fire safety systems and other building systems.
Architects, engineers and product developers predict that building automation systems will likely get more complex as more employers, building owners and governments seek to create touchless work environments.
Siemens’ smart infrastructure services division has already partnered with Salesforce to release several Internet of Things apps to facilitate touchless functions inside workspaces. Described as electronic boarding passes, the apps enable employees to access buildings, offices and elevators, and perform some facilities-based work functions, such as reserving meeting rooms and monitoring occupancy levels to avoid overcrowding.
During a recent webinar about “Touchless Buildings,” Chip Dudley, Controls Channel Manager for Johnson Controls, described how automated building systems increasingly need to integrate with third-party software applications. Johnson Controls has already developed applications that could enable an office worker or hospital patient to use their cell phones to alter the temperature, lighting, window shades and other environmental conditions.
Other touchless building technologies that are currently under development include thermal imaging cameras that take an individual’s temperature before they reach a building entrance and automatically provide or restrict entrance, depending on the person’s condition.