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What Is a Gate Operator?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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A gate operator is a mechanical device designed to automatically and remotely open and close a wide variety of gate types. These devices are generally electrically operated and draw their primary power from the mains grid or solar-powered battery banks. The gate operator is available in a number of different configurations to suit a number of gate types, sizes, and duty-cycle loads. The four main types of operators are lift, slide, swing, and trolley types, each being ideal for a specific application. Most operators function by using a key fob style remote control, a central console in a security control point, or, in the case of parking garages, via a card system.

Any device designed to automatically open and close a gate is deemed to be a gate operator. These devices are most commonly found in high security areas, residential environments, and parking lots or garages offering a high degree of security, access and egress control, and convenience to facility operators and motorists alike. Gate operators are generally driven by electric motors that are powered directly by a mains connection or via a battery that may be charged by the mains power, solar cells, or a combination of the two. Control of the gates is usually achieved using a small, infrared or radio transmitter type remote control via a manned, central control point or a card reader system.

There are gate operator devices for most types of gates with the four main types being lift, slide, swing, and trolley devices. The lift-type gate operator is a vertically-operating device that generally lifts a simple boom type obstruction out of the entry path. These are almost always used at access and egress points in parking lots. They more often than not are operated by inserting a member or limited parking card into a reader situated next to the boom.

Slide gate operators are usually used on large security complexes or residential driveways and are suitable for opening one-piece, sliding gates. This type of operator utilizes a rack and pinion gear system, with a simple spur pinion gear located on the gate operator motor, which meshes with a long, straight rack gear attached to the gate. When activated, the revolving pinion gear simply slides the gate open or closed on a set of rollers running on a track below the gate. Swing operators are used to open two-piece gates in similar applications and consist of two motors, one for each gate half. These devices have a rotating disc on top of the motor that swings the gate open or closed via an arm or linkage.

The last common type of gate operator is the trolley type. These openers are used on high-traffic applications such as office or residential building parking garages, and operate in a similar fashion to a garage door opener. When activated, a trolley moves up and down a machine screw that pulls the door up or down vertically using a simple hinged linkage. All gate operator devices are fitted with limit switches that control their range of motion, and with obstruction sensors to prevent crushing injuries. Mains operators also generally feature a battery back-up system, which allows a certain number of operation cycles should the mains power fail.

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