As the second tallest skyscraper in the United States, effectively managing visitor and tenant access and security for Willis Tower’s 15,000 tenants and 250,000 business visitors each year was a huge undertaking. But the access and aesthetic solutions needed were met without compromise by Automatic Systems, in collaboration with Willis Towers’ security systems integrators and management teams.

As part of a 300,000 square foot expansion to Willis Tower, real estate investment company EQ Office had a new vision for the 1,450-foot skyscraper’s lobby. They sought to change the existing visitor entrance to the observation deck from the south side and make multiple entrances through the main lobby on the east and west sides. The new entry points would make for a quicker, more convenient flow of visitors, while increasing traffic to the newly added retail, restaurant and fitness establishments in the lobby. 

With visitor management and security a top priority, new turnstiles to control access were required. It was determined that during the lobby’s revitalization, 38 of the existing turnstile lanes would be removed, and 35 new Automatic Systems SlimLane optical barrier turnstiles would be installed in different areas. Twenty-nine are the SlimLane EPX model for tenants and six are the standard SlimLane model for business visitors. The tenants gain access using a proximity card or an optional Idemia Morpho biometric reader. Having a trusted, durable and aesthetically beautiful access solution were all critical requirements for Willis Tower, as it’s one of the country’s few U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAFETY ACT certified buildings.

Although Automatic Systems already had an established relationship with the Tower, there was no urgency to replace the older turnstiles until EQ Office bought the building in 2016 and sought to add new turnstiles as part of their lobby and retail renovation. Automatic Systems needed to once again earn its place and trust with new ownership. Not only were new access technologies needed, but an entirely different design focusing on the tenant and guest experience.

“We worked closely with Automatic Systems during the vetting process,” said Mark Eggerding, senior technical account executive for Johnson Controls, the integrator on the project. “Together with JCI and Automatic Systems, we created physical templates, wiring diagrams and all the tools needed to help support the project. In order to transition from the industrial-looking lobby to the aesthetically pleasing lobbies and restaurant space, all the stainless steel turnstiles that were currently in use had to be replaced with a dark, sleeker looking unit, prompting Automatic Systems to design an entirely new black model complete with smoky glass obstacles.”

Gary Michon, general manager of Willis Tower, reports that Automatic Systems was able to work with them to add the technology features that were needed and customize the products they wanted to meet their access control and architectural needs. “We looked at every manufacturer out there and some had sleek, cool-looking turnstiles but not the durability we required. With the amount of people we have coming into the Tower every day, we were concerned about equipment breakdowns and reliability. Both Keith Kambic, our security director, and I knew we were the ones who’d have to be on-site, maintain the equipment and deal with any possible customer complaints, so we put our well-founded trust in Automatic Systems."

EQ Office also required the technology be future-proof and expandable. The new Automatic Systems EPX turnstile cabinets can accept new technologies and allow for Morpho hand readers and biometric cameras. 

The SlimLane security entrance lane offers a high bidirectional throughput. They’re equipped with high processing capacity and an exclusive DIRAS detection system. With card readers and elevator dispatch display capabilities, SlimLane turnstiles can be managed and monitored from one integrated, server-based system.

“In today’s competitive multi-tenant corporate real estate environment, the focus is on the tenant and guest experience,” said Ed Batchelor, regional director for Guidepost Solutions, the consultant on the project.