This article was originally published on Cannabis Tech on March 13, 2020.
Lift and Grow, LLC of suburban Minneapolis designs and manufactures industrial-scale, mobile lighting and storage systems that can be raised or lowered as needed. Their adjustable lighting systems are perfect for indoor and greenhouse cannabis growers, who require regular and precise relocation of lights to ensure plants are receiving optimal levels of illumination at all times.
Despite being in business for nearly three decades, Lift and Grow had no connection with the cannabis industry at all until 2018. That was when Lift and Grow CEO Chris Benyo got a call from a representative of James E. Wagner Cultivation, Ltd. (JWC), a Kitchener, Ontario-based medicinal cannabis grower. The management at JWC had heard good things about Lift and Grow’s ingenious technology, and they wanted to contract the company to design a lighting system explicitly customized for JWC’s aeroponic grow rooms.
“We went through half-a-dozen prototypes in 30 days with this grower, until we came up with something that was both cost-effective and efficient at doing what he wanted to do,” Benyo explains in a recent interview with Cannabis Tech. To meet JWC’s needs, Lift and Grow designers developed a one-touch digitally-controlled lighting system that can be adjusted down to the millimeter.
For JWC, this was huge. In the past, the only way they could change the position of their lights was through direct manipulation, which meant employees had to climb up ladders and physically move them. This method was slow, cumbersome, imprecise, and labor-intensive, and it was also dangerous. Falls from ladders are a common source of workplace injuries, and attempting to move bulky physical objects while standing on a ladder is an inherently risky procedure.
This was the most precise mobile lighting system ever manufactured by Lift and Grow, and it proved to be quite an engineering challenge. But once the system was installed, it worked like a charm, adding a new level of efficiency that has cut labor, electricity, and insurance costs for JWC, while helping them maximize cannabis crop output. JWC personnel can now customize lighting performance down to the nth degree, creating a smoothly functioning system that wastes nothing and leaves nothing to chance.
By adopting the Lift and Grow system, JWC increased its operating efficiency while lowering expenses. But it was Lift and Grow that garnered the biggest prize. In the blink of an eye, they found a profitable niche in the cannabis business, which they are eagerly in the process of filling.
WHY CANNABIS NEEDS LIFT AND GROW—AND VICE VERSA
Cannabis truly is a natural fit for Lift and Grow technology. Precise control of illumination and artificial lighting is an absolute requirement in indoor marijuana growing, and also in greenhouses where natural light is not available on a 24-hour basis.
Another consideration is that large-scale growing facilities with multiple growing rooms simply don’t have the personnel to handle manual manipulation of lighting promptly. Labor costs are another consideration since time spent on ladders is time that must be compensated. Even more, expenses are incurred through insurance and specialty training, which are required by OSHA regulations in the United States and by similar laws in Canada.
Once they dipped their toes in the cannabis waters, Lift and Grow quickly realized they’d been missing out. In the past year, Lift and Grow has acquired several new clients in the cannabis industry, and they’re fielding calls from interested parties on a daily basis.
Rather than marketing prefabricated systems, Lift and Grow specializes in custom projects. In Benyo’s words, “It comes from the customer. They have to tell us what they need to do.”
One exciting new project currently on the Lift and Grow drawing board is around further automation of the light lifting system.
“We’re working with two automation companies on a system where there’ll be sensors mounted on the lighting bracket,” Benyo explains. “The sensors will measure the ambient light received, determine how much supplemental lighting is needed, and at what distance from the canopy [it should be installed].”
“At first, the system would make a recommendation that the lights should be moved one inch,” Benyo continues. “But the long-term idea is that the whole greenhouse runs in a ‘lights-out’ fashion, where the system moves itself. So based on the formula set, the system will make adjustments on its own.”
Benyo reports that many of his cannabis clients are expressing interest in smart technology and automated systems, which could collect real-time data and eliminate the possibility of human error while adjusting the system. As one new client, a greenhouse grower in Minnesota, told Benyo: “I have 120 days to grow the product. Any day I make a mistake is a one percent reduction in yield. I want to build a system that’s scientifically measuring these results and delivering everything I need in the right place.”
Lift and Grow is throwing its R&D muscle into creating just such a system, which could be scaled up or down depending on the size requirements of its customers.
LIFT AND GROW IS EXPANDING ITS INVESTMENTS IN CANNABIS
Lift and Grow prides itself on its flexibility and the capacity to innovate. In response to customer demand, they’ve now developed a mobile dry rack system for cannabis growers who need more space to dry out their products.
The Lift and Grow drying system features multiple dry racks that can be lifted and supported by a retractable metal tower. This equipment expands the available square footage in drying facilities to include areas overhead, which can triple the available drying space in some buildings.
The Lift and Grow dry rack system is scheduled to hit the market in March 2020. Based on initial responses, the company is expecting to have as much business as it can handle.
Lift and Grow technology could help cannabis businesses in other ways as well, for example, in security and theft prevention.
“We’ve talked to some dispensaries that are looking for secure storage,” Benyo says. He visualizes a system where valuable cannabis products could be put under lock and key, and then lifted skyward out of the reach of potential thieves, whether they be outside interlopers or employees unable to resist the temptation.
“We’ve talked to some growers who are maxing out their facilities,” Benyo continues. “The cost of building a new building or a new addition is just prohibitive. We can help by creating extra space where it didn’t exist before.”
Lift and Grow systems can be engineered and reinforced to lift heavier-than-normal weights, raising the possibility that equipment or personnel could be vertically transported or supported as a way to create new working spaces in increasingly crowded facilities.
Lift and Grow lighting systems are flexible enough to handle most retrofits. But the best way to guarantee perfect adaptations is to plan things out ahead of time.
“One of the things we’ve gotten much better at is working with architects, engineers, and planners, to be able to pre-align how these things should be installed,” says Benyo. “We’re working with people who are 18 months, two years out, who are designing facilities today.”
So far, Lift and Grow has been contracting primarily with cannabis growers in the medicinal space. But they see great potential in the hemp industry, which seems poised to take off now that hemp has been legalized at the federal level in the United States. Lift and grow drying systems would be desirable for hemp cultivators seeking to exploit every square inch of massive drying barns.
THE LIFT AND GROW EDGE: INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY PLUS ESTABLISHED BUSINESS PRACTICES
Because the cannabis industry is relatively new, it can be hard for entrepreneurs to find suppliers and other partners with the desired amount of experience. Startups and young companies that need services and equipment often form relationships with other startups and young companies, which adds a touch of speculation and uncertainty to many of these arrangements.
Doing business with Lift and Grow eliminates this problem. The company is well-established and has an impeccable reputation. The market-proven products and can demonstrate an impressive level of achievement in research, development, and installation. This is why Lift and Grow has been able to establish a beachhead in cannabis so quickly, as cannabis growers and other cannabis entrepreneurs seek them out in search of fresh ideas and solutions.
In the relationship between Lift and Grow and the cannabis industry, the sky’s the limit… quite literally.