During the Covid-19 pandemic, Key Systems developed HandzOff, a “touchless” tool with a hook for turning door handles, a notch for engaging knobs and a probe for push buttons and digital touch-sensitive screens. What was your motivation to do this?
The concept is not particularly new – there are similar tools available. Some internal inquiries and research revealed that the brass material we use to make keys has antimicrobial properties. It was not difficult to see that a tool like this fit neatly into our production capabilities and that it was a way that we could help make a positive difference. That was all it took to get the team moving.
How long did it take you to get from concept to commercialization, what was involved and what were some challenges of retooling your production lines?
About five weeks.
This was truly a global team effort: design, design selection, prototyping, tool design and first article production took about three weeks. At the same time, marketing teams made patent and trademark inquires, worked on branding, social media campaigns, packaging and built a website. The sales teams across the globe worked on defining and creating the sales channels. It was a global team effort, more complex than I can describe in a few words.
In parallel we were working on the most difficult element – the material. There is a specific range of copper and copper alloys approved as antimicrobial. Our regular brass is an alloy of about 60% copper and 40% zinc. It fit this range with one exception – the lead (Pb) content was too high. Our biggest challenge was clearing one of our foundry casting lines of lead in order to produce an approved lead-free copper alloy.
Can you tell us about the materials choice you made for the product?
The original choice was easy – we both produce and use flat brass strip for almost every key we produce. Our brass is 100% recycled. When key blanks are punched from brass strip, about 50% of the brass strip is returned to the foundry for reprocessing. Besides processing the leftover brass from Rocky Mount, we process the scrap material from the Key Systems factories in Colombia and Peru. This leftover material in this closed-loop material cycle is supplemented by brass and copper scrap sourced from building salvage companies, other manufacturing operations and military bases.
As I mentioned before, the challenge was to eliminate the lead to produce the correct alloy. The alloy we chose came from a list published by a US government agency and is nearly identical to our normal alloy except for the lead content. By carefully choosing the type of material introduced into the first stages of the foundry process, we were ultimately able to produce the correct lead-free brass.
The new alloy was recently tested and confirmed to meet the REACH limits for lead exposure, and we are in the process of confirming that it will also meet the lead exposure limits for California Prop 65. We hope to be able to use this same material for other applications where we can offer the advantage of the antimicrobial properties of brass.