Distributors Dish On 3-D Printing: Is It Worth It?

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Major distributors have been scrambling over the past six months to add 3-D printing to their portfolios with mostly mixed sales results.

Fremont, Calif.-based Synnex and Santa Ana, Calif.-based Ingram Micro led the charge in 3-D printing last year. That was followed up in May of this year by Harrisburg, Pa.-based D&H Distributing and then Clearwater, Fla.-based Tech Data in June.

Ingram Micro has so far seen "good" demand developing for 3-D printers, according to Ryan Grant, Ingram Micro’s senior director of components and document imaging. Grant declined to give specific growth numbers and said the company is currently focused on the higher end of the consumer market as well as the lower to midsize business markets.

[Related: 3-D Printing: What's The Opportunity For The Channel?]

"I would say that we're pleased with the results so far and they're going to continue to grow. I think it's really going to come down to partner adoption. There's a set of partners that are doing it but there's a lot more partners out there. ... there's plenty of opportunity to grow this business and do it from a partner perspective," Grant said. "The technology is only getting better, it's not going anywhere and end users are asking for it. There's not many channel partners servicing it today. To me, it's only upside."

Synnex Senior Vice President of Product Management TJ Trojan said that the low end of the market is open and competition is growing, but the higher end that the distributor caters to through its partnership with vendor 3-D Systems has much higher margins. There is a lot of opportunity in the market, he said, especially if VARs build service packages around them.

"Synnex sees 3-D print as an extension of our technology solutions strategy -- which basically is our high-value category and product focus area. Technology solutions stretch from AV to unified communications to high-value print strategies such as managed print, wide-format print and document management solutions," Trojan said. "Though 3-D print is significantly different than 2-D or transaction print, we do see this as adjacent to much of our print strategy. For instance, many of our new 3-D customer partners are already engaged with Synnex through our wide-format print team, focusing on the architectural, engineering and graphics vertical."

The other distributors CRN spoke to said that they are too new to the market to pull out specific growth numbers, but they have seen a lot of resellers reaching out to them intrigued by the technology.

"I don’t know if you’ve seen the growth rate of 3-D printing, but it’s a hot market right now. It's obviously been on our radar for a long time and we've had quite a few resellers reach out to us about it," said Tiffany Severance, Tech Data director of product marketing, systems and peripherals. "I think there's an untapped market out there as well for applications that customers haven’t even thought about."

With the programs being built from the ground up and all less than a year old, Ingram Micro's Grant said that the channel is still working to figure it all out -- distribution included.

"It's all new for the channel," Grant said. "I think overall, the thing is there's been a lot of buzz around 3-D printing. What's driven a lot of the buzz is that it's become more of a consumable technology. I would say the market is still in an education mode as to B2B."

NEXT: What's The Key To The 3D Printing Market? Verticals 

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