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As a technology, 3D printing has already captured popular imagination; everyone tinkering with one idea or another wants one for their basement or garage.

But from a business perspective, 3D printers represent a major innovation that helps make organizations significantly more competitive on a global scale. Instead of having to manually build prototypes of everything from machine parts to entire products, 3D printers allow organizations to build multiple iterations of those offerings in a way that turns prototypes into finished products significantly faster and less expensively.

From a channel perspective, that’s significant, not only in terms of potentially selling 3D printers to those organizations, but also upgrading the workstations and 3D CAD/CAM software needed to model those prototypes. Looking to help channel partners foster that opportunity, Ingram Micro has tasked its U.S. Document Imaging business unit with educating partners on how to turn 3D printing into something more than a hobby.

Ingram has distribution agreements in place with MakerBot and 3D Systems, manufacturers of 3D printers aimed at the lower end of the 3D printer market. Ryan Grant, senior director document imaging and managed print for Ingram Micro in the United States, said this effort marks the beginning of what Ingram Micro envisions will be a much bigger opportunity for channel partners through 2014 and beyond.

In fact, channel stalwarts such as Hewlett-Packard have already signaled their intention to bring 3D printers to market, which would suggest that the channel programs needed to motivate solution providers to sell those offerings are already under development to one degree or another.

Demand for 3D printers will come from companies of all sizes; almost every engineer who runs a 3D application would like one. Looked at in that light, 3D printing is a phenomenon the channel shouldn’t ignore.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.