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Lunia 3D printing start up targeting major growth after strong first three years in business

From garden shed hobby to 40 printers with international clients: school friends’ 3D printing venture targeting growth

Cowbridge-based Lunia 3D was established in early 2020 by Founding Director Ken Pearce and business partner Yousef Ahmed, both aged 26 and from Newport. Credit: Wales News Service

Two former secondary school friends who reunited after a decade to launch a successful 3D printing firm are targeting major growth after a strong first three years in business.

Cowbridge-based Lunia 3D was established in early 2020 by Founding Director Ken Pearce and business partner Yousef Ahmed, both aged 26 and from Newport.

Experimenting with 3D printing techniques to make everyday items such as toys and car cup holders was initially a hobby Ken practised from his garden shed.

However, the entrepreneurial product design graduate quickly spotted the technology’s potential when he learned of the shortage of PPE shields for healthcare workers during the pandemic.

Together with his girlfriend – and helped by an Amazon fundraiser to cover material costs – he produced and supplied more than 800 free 3D printed face shields for dentists and carers from his Newport home.

Later, a chance encounter with old school friend and mechanical engineering graduate, Yousef, provided an opportunity for the pair to combine their complementary skillsets.

Helped initially by a £2,000 loan from the British Business Bank’s Start Up Loans programme to invest in their first commercial 3D printer, the pair launched Lunia 3D. The programme provides government backed loans of up to £25,000 per individual, up to a maximum of £100,000 per business, as well as 12 months’ free mentoring and advice.

Three years on, with 40 more printers and a further recent £12,000 from the British Business Bank, and Lunia 3D has cemented itself as a key player on the flourishing 3D printing stage.

The business has attracted a range of commissions; from small replacement parts for use in high-end car brands such as Maserati; to a full-scale car prototype for self-driving testing, and a 5-metre-high mock data centre cooling unit for an exhibition in Germany.

We’ve had commissions for many different projects at different ends of the spectrum – from individual customers to major brands”, Ken explained.

“There is a real misconception about the scale at which you can print. One of our biggest commissions was a full-size car shell that was then assembled like a jigsaw, kitted out and used for prototyping self-driving and camera capabilities. 

“Then, in a demonstration of how 3D printing can be used to support sustainability measures, we had a school in the Midlands contact us saying that they had 150 computer keyboards whose feet had been removed or broken by pupils. These would otherwise have gone to landfill, as the original manufacturer probably wouldn’t replace such a small part. But we were able to reverse engineer the feet and bring the keyboards back into use”.

Ken and Yousef have ambitious growth plans for Lunia 3D, including expanding their client base, developing a sales team and growing the ability to batch produce. The pair has also developed an education arm to deliver training workshops, as well as a machine repair service.

Ken continued: “As well as continuing with our resin 3D printers, for which there’s a huge demand for things like model train sets and miniature items – we’re also hoping to invest in Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printers. The technology is really transformative as you can provide larger quantities with quicker turnarounds, yet with outstanding quality and high-strength parts for engineering and end use. Imagine a part of component made in China, costing thousands to produce and ship, not to mention the environmental impact. Now you can literally produce these things locally”.

Ken said that, without the loans from the British Business Bank, the company wouldn’t have got off the ground, as he had none of his own capital to invest initially.

He also said the Start Up Loans programme, which has delivered more than 4,400 individual loans worth over £44 million to entrepreneurs in Wales over the past 10 years, was a quick and straightforward process with a helpful advisor.

In September 2022, the programme was expanded to include new businesses that have been trading for up to three years, as well as introducing a new second loan option for businesses that have been trading for up to five years. 

Jess Phillips, Senior Manager for Wales at the British Business Bank added: “Companies like Lunia 3D are the reason why the Start Up Loans programme exists – to support entrepreneurs with big ambitions and smart ideas, but who lack the initial financial capital to get things moving. 

“Ken and Yousef have impressive plans and have already demonstrated proof of concept during their three years in business, which is why the Bank was very happy to support them with a second Start Up Loan following their initial loan at the start of their business journey. We wish them every success for the future.”