Talking about the vast universe of keys might come across as uninspiring or fascinating, however, it harbors a rich variety of amazing technologies, mechanisms and solutions, some of them simple, others incredibly advanced. Each key hides a secret inside, and in this article we aim to reveal some of them. Let us begin by examining the key components, which essentially fall into two parts: handle and blade.
The components of a key
The handle can take various shapes and can be made from a wide range of materials, depending on the customer’s preference: the standard is to use nickel-plated brass, but it can also be made from plastic. Of course, the handle can come in a variety of shapes, including the classic round or square model, but it can also be ergonomically designed, T- or handle-shaped, and it can be fixed or foldable to reduce protrusion in places of high traffic. Finally, you can customize the handle with the customer’s logo or OMR logo to give your key a personalized touch.
The blade is the part that houses the lock release code and can take several configurations, including:
- Ciphered: this is the most widespread and common type of key, the classic key that has an indentation along one or both edges.
- Imprinted: there is a concave, geometric shape at the end of the blade, such as a triangle or square.
- Pin-based: relies on “metal pins” of different lengths arranged radially for encryption.
- Tubular: the blade is cylindrical or tubular in shape
- Wave with side track: new key coming in 2024.
We explore in detail how the various unlocking methods used in locks work and analyze the complex mechanisms behind common objects such as keys. We will delve into the analysis by following a path from basic protections to those of increasing complexity. In doing so, we will gain a deeper understanding of how locks can be opened and the challenges security systems face in effectively protecting access and resources.
Utility and control-cabinet keys
This type of key is commonly used in low-risk technical compartments, such as control panel doors and water and gas meters.
Compared to its encrypted counterpart, it offers a lower level of security and is often used in contexts where it is a priority to allow access to technical operators rather than to prevent unauthorized access. For example, anyone with an imprint key with a T5 triangular shape can open your water meter door, but this design allows authorized operators to access hundreds of compartments with a single key, simplifying inspection and maintenance operations. At the same time, a closed door provides basic protection for the tools in the compartment, and unauthorized access is restricted and discouraged.
This type of key finds application in a wide range of situations, such as lockers, chests of drawers, ski racks, luggage racks, mailboxes, filing cabinets, and many more.
Characterized by a high level of protection, there are two main variants: symmetrical and non-symmetrical. In the former case, the key is reversible and can be inserted into the keyhole in either direction, while in the non-symmetric variant there is only one way of inserting the key. The blade of the encrypted key has a code printed at the root of the pen, which identifies the key model. This code should not be confused with the encryption code, which is secret and determines how the key works. The notched part of the key corresponds to a numerical code, such as “124123.” The depth of the notches determines the corresponding number; a “one” notch will be much shallower than a “seven” notch.
In addition, the blade is usually traversed lengthwise by two rails, one on each side, which help keep the key in the correct position while inserting and rotating in the lock. This complex design offers a high degree of security, effectively protecting against unauthorized access.
Pin Camlock Key
This particular type of key is used in applications that require a high level of security, such as vending machines, machinery and elevator control panels, security boxes, parking meters, coin changers and the like.
The pin wrench is distinguished by its unique structure designed to provide advanced protection. It consists of a circular bushing inside which six metal pins of different lengths are arranged in a radial configuration, each representing one digit of the six-digit code. For example, the length of the pin representing the digit “one” will be shorter than that of the pin representing “four.”
The circular metal part along the edge of the key serves to keep the key aligned during insertion and rotation in the lock. It is necessary to push the key toward the lock, thus allowing the pins to press against their respective pins inside the lock. This action unlocks the mechanism and ensures that the desired access is opened. The pin key is a sophisticated solution for access protection in environments where security is paramount.
This type of key is used in a variety of contexts, protecting turnstiles, glove compartments, elevator and machinery control panels, vending machines, and others.
The operation of a tubular key has similarities to that of pin keys, but with one significant distinction: the pins are not placed on the key itself, but rather inside the lock. On the tubular key, we find seven concave incisions of different lengths. To open the lock, you must press the key all the way in and allow the internal pins to align according to the correct combination. Only then will it be possible to turn the lock and gain the desired access.
The tubular key therefore is encrypted, and it is possible to make it with mixed or unique encryption. In addition, the locking pins are neither directly visible nor accessible from the outside, further helping to raise the level of protection offered by this type of key.
Key encryption: unique, mixed or passe-partout?
Are all keys the same? Not really! In the world of industrial key production, there are different levels of complexity related to encryption. Some applications do not require a variation of ciphers, take for example locks for balcony cabinets or lockable valves: in these cases, a large number of virtually identical keys can be manufactured, and in this case we speak of “unique ciphers.” Of course, this is not always the case, and OMR can handle different ciphers to meet specific customer needs. This approach is referred to as “mixed encryption,” since the keys can actually all be unique.
There is also a further level of complexity involving mixed encryption with the addition of the concept of passe-partout. In other words, it is a set of keys that are all different, flanked by a set of special keys that can open all the different combinations. This scenario applies, for example, to cabinets and drawers in offices: each employee is responsible for their own archive, but management can have access to all cabinets through the use of a passkey.
OMR Key Production Process
As is the case with all OMR-branded products, key production is handled in-house by qualified personnel. Our team takes care of every step of the process, from the handling of the raw material that arrives at our factories to the shipping of the final product to the customer.
Each type of key follows a dedicated and targeted manufacturing process. Some keys go through automated mass production processes, as is the case with cipher keys, while others, such as pin keys, are handcrafted and manually assembled. In this way, we ensure the highest attention to detail and precision in the production of keys that meet the highest standards of quality and safety.
We would like to conclude our journey into the world of keys by paying special tribute to the Michel key, a historical artifact of the 1950s industry, which is a fundamental part of OMR’s history and testifies to the beginning of the entrepreneurial adventure of Mario and Roberto Olivi, who started from a small workshop in Piedmont.
The Michel key is a symbol of OMR’s past and its roots. Through the hard work and dedication of generations, the company has grown into what it is today: a manufacturer of high-quality products, entirely made in Italy, distributed throughout Europe. As we look back on those early days, we see the long road we have traveled together with you, and we are enthusiastically preparing for the future.
P.S. Speaking of the future, it is legitimate to wonder whether one day keys will be completely replaced by electronic access systems based on NFC, RFID and Bluetooth. And what will happen in case of battery depletion or power outages? This is a fascinating topic that OMR has been thinking about for some time, offering cutting-edge, sustainable and safe solutions. For further discussion, please read the articles on Hellock, the electronic key lock or numeric combination lock.