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With 3D printer technologies becoming robust enough to be used in a manufacturing process, HP is recruiting partners that have manufacturing expertise to drive adoption of 3D printers as an alternative to injection molding.

“We want to lead the next industrial revolution, said Steve Nigro, president of the HP 3D Printing business unit.

Until now, 3D printers have been employed primarily to manufacture replacement parts or to create a prototype of a product. The next big opportunity will manifest itself with the availability of new generations of much faster 3D printers that can manufacture products in volume, he said.

To drive that opportunity via channel partners, HP launched its first reseller program for 3D printers, which was announced at the Rapid + TCT 2017 conference. Nigro said the program has 30 participating partners, and 80 percent of them are new to the HP channel. A big reason for that is because many of the 3D printer opportunities require expertise that goes beyond traditional IT, he explained.

HP also created an HP Partner First 3D Printing Specialization program, which will make a global network of manufacturing service bureaus and product design firms available to partners. In addition, they will have access to a dozen new HP 3D Printing Reference and Experience Centers across the United States and Europe.

Nigro said that as 3D printing democratizes manufacturing, HP expects to see 30 percent compound annual growth rates in the 3D printer market, which is expected to be valued at $18 billion by 2021.

Although manufacturers have been using 3D printers on a limited basis for decades, the shift to employing 3D printers in large-scale manufacturing is creating a unique opportunity for channel partners to expand the scope of their services, said Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers and Associates, a market research firm that specializes in 3D printers and manufacturing.

“3D printers have been used for prototype quantities,” he added. “The future is about production quantities.”

Obviously, there’s a still a way to go before that goal is achieved. But, at this juncture, it’s clear that manufacturing will never be the same.