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An interlock is a device used to prevent undesired states in a state machine, which in a general sense can include any electrical, electronic, or mechanical device or system. In most applications an interlock is used to help prevent a machine from harming its operator or damaging itself by stopping the machine when tripped. Household microwave ovens are equipped with interlock switches which disable the magnetron if the door is opened. Similarly household washing machines will interrupt the spin cycle when the lid is open. Interlocks also serve as important safety devices in industrial settings, where they protect employees from devices such as robots, presses, and hammers. While interlocks can be something as sophisticated as curtains of infrared beams and photodetectors, they are often just switches.
Trapped key interlocking
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Trapped key interlocking is a method of ensuring safety in industrial environments by forcing the operator through a predetermined sequence using a defined selection of keys, locks and switches.
It is called “Trapped Key” as it works by releasing and trapping keys in a predetermined sequence. After the control or power has been isolated, a key is released that can be used to grant access to individual or multiple doors.
For example, to prevent access to the inside of an electric kiln, a trapped key system may be used to interlock a disconnecting switch and the kiln door. While the switch is turned on, the key is held by the interlock attached to the disconnecting switch. To open the kiln door, the switch is first opened, which releases the key. The key can then be used to unlock the kiln door. While the key is removed from the switch interlock, a plunger from the interlock mechanically prevents the switch from closing. Power cannot be re-applied to the kiln until the kiln door is locked, releasing the key, and the key is then returned to the disconnecting switch interlock.  A similar two-part interlock system can be used anywhere it is necessary to ensure the energy supply to a machine is interrupted before the machine is entered for adjustment or maintenance.
In microprocessor architecture an interlock is hardware that stalls the pipeline (inserts bubbles) when a hazard is detected until the hazard is cleared. One example of a hazard is if a software program loads data from the system bus and calls for use of that data in the following cycle in a system in which loads take multiple cycles (a load-to-use hazard).
Interlocks may be strictly mechanical, as in the internal safety of a firearm that prevents release of the firing pin unless the chamber is properly closed.
In the operation of a device such as a press or cutter that is hand fed or the workpiece hand removed, the use of two buttons to actuate the device, one for each hand, greatly reduces the possibility of operation endangering the operator. No such system is fool-proof, and such systems are often augmented by the use of cable–pulled gloves worn by the operator; these are retracted away from the danger area by the stroke of the machine. A major problem in engineering operator safety is the tendency of operators to ignore safety precautions or even outright disabling forced interlocks due to work pressure and other factors. Therefore such safeties require and perhaps must facilitate operator cooperation.
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- Harry Fraser, The electric kiln: a user's manual 2nd edition, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000,page 41
- "Dorbin Metal Strip". thebuilderssupply.com. Retrieved 12 April 2013.