The evolution of S.E.M.S

The Spindle Extraction Manipulation System.

The idea of trying to defeat a combination lock through the spindle hole is not a new one. HPC have been marketing spindle hole defeat tools for over twenty years. Whilst difficult to use I suspect, due to their relative cheap cost, that most professional safe tech’s have a set just for the sake of ‘you never know when they may come in handy’.

Many of you will of heard me say this before. John Falle of Falle Safe Securities, Jersey, Channel Islands U.K. is a genius. He has a proven track record of innovative design for nondestructive lock opening tools that is unparalleled in our industry.

About 15 years ago John and I, had a discussion regarding the merits of a tool that would open a combination lock through the existing spindle hole in a safe container. At that time John felt sure he could design a tool that would achieve this in a simple and efficient manner.

Over the years our business relation ship has  centered around designing lock defeat tools for our industry. When doing this we have to consider production costs, ease of use and the possibility of the end product being easily copied.

So when John said "it wouldn’t be cheap" I was understandably less than enthusiastic about embarking on a project that was likely to have a high cost in research and development terms, which would lead to an end product that would be difficult to bring to market because of price. I did however agree that price might not be so much of an issue if the end product was 100% reliable, easy to use and effective on group 1 locks that were resistant to manipulation techniques.

Being a sounding board and ‘test pilot’ for Johns equipment is a fantastic part of my work, but there is a fine line between ‘shooting an idea down in flames’ and nurturing an idea that could revolutionize the way every day safe technicians go about their daily work. If you speak to John about this today, he would tell you that, at that time, I didn’t think his idea had any purpose or validity and that there would be no requirement for such a tool. All I actually said was that ‘I wasn’t sure’

I guess the idea rattled around inside Johns head for about ten years before he actually told me that he was going to design and build a spindle extraction manipulation tool.

Five years ago I went to Johns house on Jersey and saw the first working prototype. That same visit I went with him and to attempt to open and SMP Community grade 1 safe that was locked out due to lost combination of the 3 wheel Sergeant and Greenleaf lock. This was the first real field trial of S.E.M.S. and the first failure.

Spindle Extraction Manipulation can be divided into three sections.

1.Removal of dial and existing spindle.

2.Replacement of spindle and regaining control of drive cam.

3.Decoding and opening of lock.

Looking at things in this way gives a partial insight into how someone like John goes about the problem solving process. His initial idea for removing the spindle is nothing like the solution that exists today.

Whilst I am happy to write this article to explain the evolution of an idea I am reluctant to include too much technical detail for, what should be, obvious reasons.

Suffice to say that the current S.E.M.S. tool re moves the spindle by the use of a specially designed tool. This tool forces the spline key out of the spindle and allows the spindle to be unscrewed.

John’s original idea for removing the spindle was, as I have said a totally different approach. This alternative method involved the use of a specially designed tubular drill bit and drill motor that could firstly drill at 90 degrees to the spindle axis and secondly allow the bit to pass through the assembly body.

So when I turned up in Jersey for the prototype demonstration, that went flawlessly, on a mounted lock you can imagine how impressed I was. John had demonstrated that he was able to pull the dial (conventionally) and then drill through the drive cam, removing the spline key, but leaving enough of the cam to be able to regain control of it.

So back to the SMP Community 1. The dial came off without a problem, but when John was pushing on the drill he was slightly over enthusiastic with the end pressure being applied towards the cam. Needless to say he pushed the back of the lock off, fired the internal relocker, and the spindle and drive cam disappeared inside the safe door. I would say in his defense, he is not a safe technician, so he would probably have been well advised to let his trusted aide, moir, to have done the drilling. As it was I drilled from the front and lined up the wheels and the relocker was pulled with a bit of bent wire. The door was repaired and all was well for the nonpaying customer.

The problem with using the drill was clearing the swarf, because we were using a tube there were no clearance flutes, so we had to clear it manually by insertion and extraction several times.

About 3 months later I had another call from John to say that the problem was fixed. He was coming to the U.K. to show me the new improved technique for spindle removal.

Sure enough in my workshop, he produced the spline pin removal tool. He did severaldemo’s including one on a locked up Chubb Euro Grade 1.

As luck would have it I had a locked out safe to open at the local Police H. Q.

Pictured above S.E.M.S. version 1

John & I attended this safe and opened it, using the full S.E.M.S. technique in about 30 minutes. Pictured below is an emotionless John Falle just after the first live opening.

John FalleNow that we had a working tool, the problem was, how to go about exposing it to the market. We realized that the major potential for sales was in the U.S.A. as they have probably got more combination locks than anywhere else in the world.

Through S.A.V.T.A I arranged to give a 2hour seminar one evening at the 2006 convention in Albuquerque. S.A.V.T.A. produced a safe and an audience that was larger than anticipated. Through a process of explanation, demonstration assisted by some really good visual aids, the safe was opened via the technique.

There was a slight problem with John dialing in the code, (5 attempts plus verbal interference from me) but again, what has to be realized is that he is a genius inventor, and he does not approach the dialing sequence in the same way that I or most of the people reading this article would.

During the seminar a few people were taking photographs of the Power Point presentation on the screen whilst several others were taking copious notes. I can only think that this was being done with a view to plagiarism, to this day I am bemused by their actions, as I thought the kit would be difficult to copy, apparently someone has managed to do so.

Having discussed the first phase of this technology, phase two is a relatively simple procedure. Replace the removed spindle with one of your own that is hollow. It really is as simple as that, locate it into the cam and screw it home.

From this position we can attach our own dial and then go about the process of decoding the lock.

The third and final phase of the process proved to be a little trickier and was heavily reliant on correct technical manufacturing production. Having regained control of the cam and therefore the lock we are left I the situation of having a clear path down the center of our spindle to the gate positions on the wheels. All we have to do is pass something along that path that is capable of making the journey and delivering feedback. The solution was Nitinol or memory metal as it is sometimes referred to. Nitinol is a Nickel Titanium alloy that has unique properties. One of these properties allows the alloy to be formed into a specific shape under heat treatment. Once formed the metal will retain that shape even after it has been forcibly distorted, providing it has the room to do so.

Nitinol4 wheel lock

The picture shows an example of the type of shape that was required, when attached to a rod, straightened, and passed through the spindle the clip will hit the back of the lock, pass behind and over the wheel pack and settle on top of it.

In reality, for a four wheel lock, 4 different clips are required, one to decode each wheel.

Thereafter it is a relatively simple process to dial the wheel pack until the clip tip, drops into the gate of its particular wheel, thereby identifying the position of it. When all wheels are decoded a further clip is used to identify the orientation of the lock before attempting to dial it open.

That explained, my next problem was to convince people that it was a working viable tool. Once again S.A.V.T.A. and their annual convention was to prove vital in how to do this. For the 2007 convention in Lexington, Kentucky, John, and I hosted a class for 18 students. The class was booked on a first come first serve basis and sold out as soon as it was advertised. Our strategy was to have 9 kits and 9 cut away mounted locks in the class, one between two. We would demonstrate teach the process and allow the class participants to learn and practice each step. We also had three locked up safes for each group of six students that they could then prove the concept, a kind of try before they buy.

The class was a resounding success I think all attendees could see the potential although there was an issue with the quality of the Nitinol clips. The equipment was displayed at the trade show through our U.S. distributor M.B.A INC. LTD. Whilst demonstrating the tool at the show the clips were again showing signs of stress.

John acknowledged the problem with the clips but struggled to find a solution.

The problem being to find a supplier that could deliver the quality required. We were committed to running further classes at S.A,V.TA. 2008 Las Vegas. As time marched on we had to withdraw from that commitment. The clips were unresolved, this was an embarrassment to ourselves and S.A.V.T.A. that still leaves a bitter taste with me to this day.

The annoying thing was that during the year previous John had developed the tool to function on group 1 locks. This had been demonstrated on the S&G 8400 series lock as well as the British Mk IV Manifoil. John and I had in fact been to Clarence House, London (Prince Charles residence) and opened a container locked by Mk IV Manifoil.

So we were now potentially ‘By Appointment To His Majesty” but couldn’t get things together for a trade convention. Frustrating was not the word.

Finally the clip issue was resolved. The shape was modified and the manufacture and strength were perfect. Ironically the cost to produce was 30% less than previously. The bottom line was that we had the right company doing the job.

S.A.V.T.A. had cautiously agreed to put on a S.E.M.S. class at their 2009 convention in Myrtle Beach. They were understandably apprehensive, we on the other hand were supremely confident that we had a completed, working tool.

During the convention we agreed to put on an additional evening seminar. Interest in the class was high and the 18 available slots were sold out as soon as advertised.

Both the demonstration at Myrtle Beach and the class were a resounding success, S.E.M.S was now working marketable product handled by MBA the U.S. Falle Safe distributors.

I have probably used S.E.M.S. more than anyone, each time I do I learn something new. Recently I put S.E.M.S. to its biggest test, a Kaso Gem fitted with a 4 wheel S&G. The slab on this safe is about 8 inches thick. Each step of the opening went perfectly apart from the dial up. I am sure John won’t mind me saying that the instruction of this process seems a little over complicated. I have since discussed the matter with Mark Bates, a world renown manipulator and one of the best I know. As a result of that conversation I am looking at alternative instructions and possible process for the dial up part of the equipment.

Watch this space for developments.

Below is a picture of the Kaso, handle turned, the Kromer Novum keylock was also picked open.