Kiwi Made: MiniLifts

By: Randall Johnston, Photography by: Randall Johnston

MiniLifts provide a better, more efficient, and safer way of working at heights

Most people have ideas, some people even have good ideas, but few have the grit and determination it takes to turn their good idea into a reality; in this case, one that solves a very real problem on-site.

Deals and Wheels has uncovered one such individual in Christchurch-based MiniLifts Incorporated Limited—CEO Steven Munro, who has created an innovative new product that provides a better, more efficient, and safer way of working at heights.

Fully manoeuvrable while elevated and at just 208kg—most elevated work platforms range from 400 to 800kg—the MiniLift is light enough to be carried by two people. This eliminates the need for a crane or forklift, and Steven says the MiniLift simply offers a better solution than struggling with ladders and scaffolding to get the job done.

Designed to be operated by one person, the self-propelled MiniLift stands at two metres (from ground to platform), has a maximum working height of four metres, and the battery provides long operation after each charge.

The story behind its development is a classic Kiwi tale of a professional tradesman—an electrician who recognised that the tools he had available to him were far from ideal for the task at hand. 

In this modern era, we should be enjoying the reduced impact of manual labour on our bodies and getting jobs done more easily, thanks to advanced engineering and smart design. It would seem that the reality of us reaching this eutopia, however, is still a work in progress.

Inspiration strikes

MiniLifts Incorporated Limited CEO Steven Munro

Inspiration can strike in times of hardship, as was the case for Steven and his workmate, while on a tricky job in the garden city.

"Back in 2014, me and a friend Carl Haimer, who is also the engineer who did the mechanical design of the MiniLift, were working on a job at Knox Plaza in Christchurch," Steven explains.

"I was doing electrical for HVAC, which is all the power points and heat recovery and fan cool units inside, and we were basically using a mobile scaffold. We were up on level four, so we had to carry the scaffold all the way up there and get it built by a registered person who could tag it to ensure it was safety compliant.

"We were working away and these steel beams we had to get under weren’t exactly the same height, so we had to take all the tools off, angle the scaffold, or take the wheels off, and it just became really frustrating. It hindered our work, and we became more scaffolders than electricians!"

That’s when a bright idea struck, one so bright, in fact, that it really stuck and has been the focus of Steven’s considerable efforts ever since.

"So we started thinking how nice would it be to have a portable elevated work platform that you put into a motor vehicle, carry upstairs, that could hold tools, and drive forward while elevated?" he recalls.

Asking why not?

Its patented and custom-made stabilisers are automatically engaged

The mobile scaffolding just wasn’t cutting the mustard and got Steven thinking about how much more efficiently such jobs could be done with an elevated work platform that could be safety manoeuvred with the operator remaining at any selected height and that could be easily transported from site to site.

He didn’t muck around either, seeing that there would be demand for such a product from a wide range of labour-intensive trades and industries.

"We just started putting it together and spent a lot of time designing it after work," Steven says.

"Work dried up a little bit for Carl, so that’s when he started working on it full-time to get the drawings done faster, because you need the drawings to be done in 3D CAD before the parts can be made."

The whole idea of the MiniLift is that it allows tradespeople to work smarter, not harder.

"The bottom line is that an eight-hour job can be done in four hours when using this," Steven explains.

"There’s just nothing like it on the market and it’s affordable. Being up and down a ladder all day is tiring and when you are tired, you’re more likely to make mistakes and often it’s just not safe."

No easy road

The battery cell is easily removed when breaking down the unit for transport

Steven says he has never attempted to design and manufacture any kind of machinery before and that there have been a lot of challenges encountered along the way that he didn’t foresee. He explains that there’s a huge amount of work involved, especially regarding compliance and meeting all the relevant regulations.

"There have been so many hurdles, I don’t even really know where to begin. It’s been tough-going and has broken me down on a number of occasions.

"The legal side of doing something like this, and patent process are completely massive, and I didn’t expect to have that."

Steven is going through another certification process with the MiniLift right now, which he says is 95% of the way through.

He has two fully operational demonstrator models that he has attended a few trade show with (and a third in the making), and the enthusiastic feedback that Steven has had while using it there and on during test runs on his own electrical jobs has been "very encouraging".

"Both have done more than 250 hours on-site, fitting rangehood ducts in the Northlands Mall food court among many other jobs, so they have been throughout tested and they go very well. I used it to put in a big set of sub-mains in Office Stationery in Northwood that would have taken three guys, six to eight hours on ladders, whereas two of us did it with the MiniLift in three and a half hours.

"There’s a lot of interest and we’re getting close to being ready to take this to market, but I can’t put a timeline on that just yet, as there’s still a certification process we have to work through."

The build

The whole unit folds down into parts that can be carried by two people

Made from aviation-grade aluminium and steel, the lift is easy to operate from within the platform and Steven hasn’t compromised on build quality. The whole unit is easily assembled and disassembled in minutes and loaded into a van or ute, folding down to just 1000mm by 700mm.

The tool tray can hold up to 20kg and sits just in front of the operator at hand height, reducing the risk of back injuries and keeping the platform floor free from clutter.

A sharp turning circle makes moving around in tight spaces a breeze and added tilt-protection provides the operator with additional safety.

"It has a lot of unique features, including stabilisers on each side that are totally unique and custom built, and give the operator additional piece of mind.

"I see no limit on what trades will find this useful, essentially any that require working at heights will be able to get jobs done in half the time."

While it hasn’t been easy, nothing worth achieving is and Steven is proud to have seen his concept through and is looking forward to seeing the difference it can make to any trade or operation that requires working at heights—more safely, faster, and without the hassle.

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