Timelock: the best safe and vault security during closing hours

Timelock: the best safe and vault security during closing hours

Many people often forget that, even in the security field, the simplest solutions are often the best ones

What is a Timelock?

Basically, a Timelock is a way to secure a container's content during businesses' closed hours. Originally, they were commonly found on bank vault doors, however, they are being more and more frequently used on all types of high security containers.

A Timelock consists of two groups of parts.

1)     A metal case with a locking mechanism

2)     Two or three clocks called "Movements."

The Timelock is designed to block the boltwork and deny any access to the container during a preset period.

Programming is made through movements.

Figure 1  3-movement mechanical Timelock

To understand the importance of the movements, their function must be explained further. In a two or three-movement Timelock, there are two major components affected by the movements: the trigger cam and the trigger plate.

At the beginning of the set time, the trigger plate is fully engaged with the trigger cam. At the end of the set time, an opening pin placed on the movement face will push the trigger plate and it will completely disengage the trigger cam from the trigger plate, allowing the boltwork to withdraw. Access to the container's content is now possible after having operated the other security devices (Key and/or Combination Locks).

Only one of the two or three movements is sufficient to move the trigger plate. Should one movement not work, the other ones are present as redundant opening security.

Obviously, movements are essential to assure a timely opening of the device, and, to this end, two elements must be considered, the accuracy of the movement's working and the possible precision of the time setting. These two features associated with reliability are the main qualities required from a Timelock movement.

Basic principles

These principles have been true for over 100 years. From the first lock, made of 2 kitchen clocks by Mr. James Sargent (whose name became famous in this industry) to the 144-hour 3-movement Timelocks currently used by most banks, there is a long way but no significant revolution.

Basic requirements remain the same,


·        Redundancy and independence

This double requirement states that a Timelock must be triggered by more than one movement, and all movements must be independent of each other. Any individual failure must be compensated by one or more movements working in parallel and one movement failure must not affect the other ones. This principle prevents, for example, having a single power source (mechanical or electrical) for several movements.

This requirement was initially justified by the low reliability level of the clocks and drove some OEMs to build Timelocks with up to seven movements. Nowadays, standard use is to have a three-movement Timelock case, fitted with 2 or 3 movements on vault and

strong room doors and a two-movement Timelock on safes. Redundancy is still justified by the ratio between the cost of a possible intervention to break a door open and the price of an additional movement in a Timelock, even if reliability drastically improved over time and most problems are now due to installation rather than to the product itself.

·        Accuracy in running and time setting.

Financial institutions or shops usually open at predetermined times throughout the week and managers are always frustrated if cash or values are not accessible at the precise time. It is therefore more desirable for a Timelock to gain than lose time. Managers tend to set less time than effectively required to avoid a late opening of the lock. This drives to a loss of security, as container access is possible before the actual desired time. This topic is to be considered from two different standpoints:

1)     The running accuracy. It is mainly related to the escapement quality and the transmission of the force through the gear train. Whatever manufacturer the movements come from; this is generally not a real critical point. Factory setting is usually made in such a way that the movement will take a little time when it is new. Forty seconds ahead per day is the usual standard. This setting is mainly justified because, over time, the movement will work a little slower due to the aging of lubricant, but also, as movement applies a force onto the Timelock trigger, it will tend to run a little slower.

Figure 2 Standard mechanical Movement

1)     The setting accuracy. This is, in most cases, the main issue. In a standard 144-hour movement, depending on the model, one "click" (tooth on the display wheel) is 12 to 60 minutes. Whatever the graduation of the dial may be, usually 1 hour. The distance between two lines is very small. Even if most movements or Timelock front glass are supplied with a magnifier, it is possible to reach a practical accuracy better than plus/minus 20 minutes.


Based on these considerations, a first generation of "electronic" Timelock

appeared in the 80's. From the traditional Timelocks, they draw the principle of an internal blocking of the container. The main difference was related to the fact that the electromechanical programmable unit was an integral part of the case and not interchangeable. Even if some of them had the same footprint as their predecessors, retrofitting a door was not an easy job, these products were more directed to new installations and OEM's rather than to existing equipment. Several "electronic Timelocks" came onto the marketplace such as the S&G's Sirus or the Relhor's Misal. However, despite perfect accuracy, many more programmable features than any mechanical Timelock, they never gained significant market shares.

Based on these experiences and on the conservative mentality of this market, STB Microtechniques SA, supported by members of La Gard network, decided to develop electronic movement to be used in a standard 2- or 3-movement mechanical Timelock case. The main advantage of this choice was to immediately open both the OEM and retrofit market.

Figure 3: Exploded view of a STB electronic Movement

The product has been designed to answer most users' concerns related to mechanical movements and keep the features that made their success for so many years. Compatible with most existing cases, they offer the same level of independence and redundancy as their purely mechanical counterpart. Each movement is powered by a three-volt battery and is individually able to operate the lock. To guarantee a minimum lifetime of one year, the battery is only used to power the programming portion of the movement. A mainspring wound during the time setting process brings the force required to push the lock trigger (± 30 Newtons).

The main contribution of electronic technology is the guarantee of perfect accuracy in both running and time setting. This accuracy even allows one to use one's Timelock for short closings such as lunchtime, making sure there will not be any delay in opening. Identically to all Timelock movements, electronic ones require a key to be programmed. On standard models, the first action of the key will turn the display on and wound the mainspring. Further rotation will install locking hours in 15-minute increments.

Figure 4   Two-movement Timelock with weekly movements

On non-reset type movements, inaction of the winding key for one-minute locks

in the time setting. Reset type movements allow altering locking hours at any time prior to locking the container.

Advantages and drawbacks of electronic

Beyond the accuracy issue, electronics are bringing many other features that will never be available with a mechanical movement.

Readability is not the least of them. Thanks to the large size display, it is easy to know, at any time, how many hours, minutes and seconds are left. This feature is mostly appreciated by those who program their lock in the morning (for 24 hours) and only lock.

their door at the end of the day. Programming mistakes are reduced, avoiding delays in the next opening.

Software. In many countries, the standard countdown version is the most popular due to its similarity with mechanical movements. However, even this simple model offers more possibilities than its mechanical equivalent. Extended time setting is the main advantage, especially for the commercial field: 199 hours is standard with potential for up to 999 hours in some models. More sophisticated software is also available, such as a weekly program. With the key as only programming means, it is possible to set a repetitive

seven-day program. Sub-programs allow canceling a pre-set opening, adding an intermediate opening, or switching from summertime to wintertime. Avoiding calculating how many hours must be installed until the next opening makes programming mistakes nearly impossible. This version displays real time when Movement is not armed.

Service: Annual is the recommended service for all mechanical movements. Depending on the environment, electronic Timelock movements only require annual battery replacement and full service every two to three years. Additionally, technical skills required for servicing electronic Movements are nowadays more easily available than a good Timelock technician, able to clean and repair an escapement. As with any technical product, electronic Timelock movements are not designed for every and all situations. The following restrictions apply to their use: temperature below 0°C (32°F) or above 50°C (122°F) and durable extreme relative humidity that may disturb normal functions of some electronic components or may cause dark spots on the LCD. Otherwise, STB Timelocks with electromechanical movements apply in most situation, where a

Timelock can be installed. They offer a competitive alternative to upgrade an

installation avoiding heavy modifications and providing a high level of

convenience to the user. Approved by Underwriter Laboratories as both a complete Timelock and a Timelock components, the STB electromechanical products have been satisfying the most demanding OEMs for several years all over the world.


STB microtechniques SA has specialized for over 70 years in industrial Time Basis design and manufacturing. It has earned its know-how from the legendary tradition of Swiss Watchmakers. Timelocks, but also Vibro-Recorders, Pigeon Timers, Barographs, Pluviometers, Temporization Systems are some of the various fields of applications for STB Movements. Since 1938, under the name of “Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Saint-Blaise”, the company has been supplying largest safe and vaults manufacturers.

in the world. Its customers have the names Diebold, Mosler, Yale, Lefebure, LaGard, Kromer, Chubb, Parma[i], and many others.

[i] I All brand names and trademarks are property of their respective companies.

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