Automatic Door Operators: All you Need to Know


26 February 2023



A modern glazed automatic door

Automatic commercial doors are the gateway to a business or residential property. They enhance the corporate image of a building, provide accessibility for people with disabilities – and represent convenience, safety, and ease for all.

After all, as 21st Century humans, we expect everything to be smart these days. We want phones that remind us of important family birthdays and we want doors that open for us without effort.

Ever wondered about the science behind an automatic door? It all comes down to its automatic door operator, or auto operator for short. These are the clever mechanisms that activate automatic doors to open and close without the need for physical handling – either via a touchless sensor or a push plate. They include components such as a gear motor, door controller, pulley, and timing belt.

Let’s look at auto operators in more detail…

automatic door

Automatic door operators come in two main forms:


If your commercial door is going to be used primarily as an automatic door (i.e. the door will be automatically opened most of the time it’s used), you should opt for an electro-mechanical operator. The mechanism inside this operator uses a mechanical motor to open and close the door – and they’re designed to withstand consistent automatic usage.

You should choose an electro-hydraulic operator if your commercial door will be primarily used manually. The mechanism inside this operator uses a mechanical motor to open the door and a hydraulic closer to close the door – meaning it mostly functions as a door closer.

And so, the main thing to consider when determining which operator will work best for your door is to consider the application of the door. Are you a busy retail business or medical facility with a high footfall? Or are you installing a commercial door in a municipal building with a lighter footfall that might benefit from a manual opener?

Hotel entrance interior, glass automatic sliding doors

What are actuators for auto operators?

In order to open automatically, an auto operator must receive an electric signal – the actuator sends this signal. Like auto operators themselves, actuators also come in two main forms, the difference between them comes down to how the signal is sent to the auto operator. Which leads us to:

 1. ‘Knowing act’
Don’t worry, you haven’t just stumbled onto a piece of random legal advice. Let us explain, for most auto operators the actuator will be a push plate, keypad or non-contact switch mounted on the wall or jamb that the user knowingly activates – hence, the expression, Knowing Act. Such actuators can be hardwired to the operator while some can be set up to send a wireless signal.

They come in a wide variety of shapes and types and are required to open slowly with limited force, to ensure safety – without the safety sensors or guide rails that are required for the kind of full-powered pedestrian doors you see in retail stores.

Young taiwanese man unlocking door at his office with an electronic key card

2. ‘Unknowing act’

Conversely, some auto operators receive a signal that the user unknowingly activates. These actuators are typically motion sensors that are mounted above the door and track an individual’s movement within a certain area. Motion sensor actuators also require safety sensors to be installed on or around the door to monitor for other movement and so ensure no-one is injured by the motion of the door.

If the safety sensors pick up movement, the auto operator will reverse course so as not to cause harm to anyone who might be in the doorway. These motion sensor actuators are also programmable.

3D illustration. The facade of a modern shopping center or station, an airport with automatic sliding doors.


Compatible door hardware is key

The success of an auto operator relies on compatible door hardware. For instance, if a door has a latch, it must be able to un-latch in order for the door to be opened by the operator. Installing an electric strike that releases the latch when signalled is the answer. An electric exit device with an option for electric latch retraction is another option.


At Select, we always send our own skilled installers to install doors with auto operators, for our clients. This is because we need to ensure the installation is done correctly and safely. Our installers coordinate with the electrical divisions to ensure everything is done up to code. Plus, having installed hundreds of doors with automatic operators for different clients, our in-house experts are able to offer deep insight and answer any of your questions on site.

We would always advise people to employ the services of a trained installer. Automatic operators are very intricate pieces of equipment and as such can get quite expensive. Therefore, while using an untrained installer might be cheaper in the short term, if things go wrong it could prove extremely costly in the long run.

Like to work with us?

Select Door and Frame is Canada’s leading supplier and distributor of high-performance, cost-effective doors, frames & hardware. From door and frame specification to product supply and installation, we offer a complete  range of professional services that have kept our customers coming back for more than 25 years.

If you’re interested in working with us, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to see how to team up to provide the perfect doors, frames and hardware for your project.