Prospects of applying 3-D printing to economics of remote communities: Reindeer herder case

Svetlana Obydenkova (School of Industrial Engineering and Management, Department of Energy Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden)
Nicholas C. Anzalone (Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University, USA)
Joshua M. Pearce (Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University, USA)

Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy

ISSN: 1750-6204

Publication date: 3 September 2018



Isolated communities face a variety of inconveniences including severe remoteness, poor roads and extreme climate conditions, resulting in the lack of security of supply chains and exorbitant prices for cargo delivery. This paper aims to investigate the present advantages and prospects of applying 3-D printing to improve economics and everyday life of remote communities, reindeer herder case taken as an example.


This study covers the use of a low-cost open-source 3-D printer (RepRap) capable of fused filament fabrication to reduce operating costs for nomadic reindeer herder groups. Three case studies are provided for reindeer-specific applications to probe economic and technical viability of the technology, namely, ear-tags, electric fence components and lasso accessories.


3-D printed objects feature technical characteristics similar to those of analogues available on the market while reducing the price by 63 per cent. Distributed 3-D printing reduces the cost of raw materials by 68 per cent and shipping costs by 50 because of lower trip frequency. If all reindeer herders globally were to adopt distributed manufacturing of the three aforementioned sample items only, their annual savings from such solution would amount to US$2m. The paper discovers other economic, entrepreneurial, technical and environmental opportunities offered by 3-D printing put to service the needs of remote communities.

Research limitations

As the paper is the first-ever study of 3-D printing potential applied to the reindeer husbandry case, it is based on a more thorough analysis of the techno-economic feasibility of the technology, while cultural and entrepreneurial factors have been discussed as preconditions only.

Practical implications

The paper might serve as a valuable source of information for entrepreneurs, as well as for students and academics for further case studies in this area.


In remote conditions, 3-D printing offers a more sustainable way of good manufacturing. Numerous open source designs already available for specialists, financial effectiveness, environmental benefits and vast opportunities for entrepreneurs are among the most promising advantages of the technology.



Obydenkova, S., Anzalone, N. and Pearce, J. (2018), "Prospects of applying 3-D printing to economics of remote communities", Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 488-509.

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

1. Introduction

The release of the RepRap (self-REPlicating RAPid prototyper) under open-source licenses has radically decreased the costs, while increasing the access to 3-D printers (Sells et al., 2009; Jones et al., 2011; Bowyer, 2014; Rundle, 2014). It has been shown that using a RepRap to fabricate end products can reduce costs for both high-end products like scientific equipment (Pearce, 2012; 2013; Wijnen et al., 2014; Baden et al., 2015; Wittbrodt et al., 2015) and for conventional mass-manufactured consumer goods (Gershenfeld, 2005; Bradshaw et al., 2010; Wittbrodt et al., 2013; Wohlers and Caffrey, 2014). The number of open source designs of all types has been rising exponentially (Wittbrodt et al., 2013), which increases the value for the printers for owners. Several studies have indicated that 3-D printers would also be useful for sustainable development (Pearce et al., 2010; Birtchnell and Hoyle, 2014; Ishengoma and Mtaho, 2014). These applications have focused primarily on issues related to communities in warm climates in the global south. For example, most small farmers in the developing world use labor-intensive agricultural hand tools and there has been some indications that superior tools can be developed and 3-D printed improving the efficiency of agriculture in the developing world (Ishengoma and Mtaho, 2014) and recent developments have indicated this could be happening (Pearce, 2015).

However, northern groups of indigenous people who live as nomadic reindeer herders face a variety of inconveniences, namely the dramatic remoteness of herders’ camps from industrial centers, poor roads or even the full absence of them, extreme climate conditions, a difficult landscape and low population density in the regions where reindeer husbandry takes place. Therefore, they might experience dire challenges related to the lack of security in supply chains (Solvang and Hakam, 2010) and exorbitant prices for cargo delivery (Yu et al., 2014; Hageback and Segerstedt, 2004). Research in distributed manufacturing with solar-powered RepRaps (King et al., 2014) has shown that isolated communities are capable of making an assortment of products for themselves on location (Gwamuri et al., 2014; Khan et al., 2018).

This study investigates the viability and prospects of low-cost open-source 3-D printer capable of fused filament fabrication plastic manufacturing to reduce the operating costs for nomadic reindeer herders as the example of the development of 3-D printing for rural application. It is assumed that reindeer herders can make use of more than million open source designs for common consumer items just as any consumer might; however, here three case studies are provided (ear-tag, electric fence components, and lasso accessory) for reindeer-specific applications to probe the economic and technical viability of adopting this technology in nomadic northern communities. The economic evaluation has been prepared based on retailer prices for raw materials and the 3-D printer model, available literature data on reindeer husbandry and incumbent logistics data.

2. Literature review

2.1 Reindeer husbandry and indigenous communities

Reindeer herding is a unique lifestyle featuring a basically nomadic existence spread remotely into the northern hemisphere and, quite often, in areas with extreme climate conditions (The International Center for Reindeer Husbandry; UN). Reindeer husbandry is typical for the northern groups of indigenous people who have developed this business over centuries and constitutes the main part of income for such communities (Filppa, 2005; Tyler et al., 2007; Dana, 2008). As such indigenous communities rely on a large extent on reindeer meat, milk and hides in their everyday life, their prosperity depends essentially on livestock well-being, and husbandry traditions are linked inherently to the local culture (Filppa, 2005; Dana, 2008; Roturier and Roué, 2009; Dana and Riseth, 2011). Nonetheless, at the same time, northern indigenous communities are able to successfully adopt innovations (Dana, 2008; Obydenkova and Pearce, 2016). The profound interaction of business and culture was found to be common also for northern rural settlements featuring activities other than reindeer husbandry such as fishing (Holen, 2009).

In spite of discernible community self-sufficiency in terms of natural food supply, there is still a demand for externally made goods for businesses or for other community needs. However, under the dramatic remoteness and extreme natural conditions found where these communities live, this can result in exorbitant fuel costs for transportation being added on to the cost of goods (Usher et al., 1994; Obydenkova and Pearce, 2016).

Personal income of a reindeer herdsman is relatively low (Jernsletten and Klokov, 2002; Reinert, 2006; Tyler et al., 2007; Dana and Light, 2011), as the herder needs to invest significant part of the family income into technical tool purchases and maintenance, as well as into transportation costs. The latter can become a major issue in severe northern conditions and, is observed quite often, in a mountainous territory (Jernsletten and Klokov, 2002; Yu et al., 2014). Therefore, herders might be interested in a new business model allowing them to obtain high-demand items at request and for a lower price, and on terms that do not compromise their cultural identity. Such a model may become possible via the involvement of distributed manufacturing with 3-D printing (Laplume et al., 2016).

Because of a variety of pre-conditions, modern reindeer husbandry has unique features, including those related to the business model applied, social, demographic and entrepreneurial specialties and culture. Husbandry can involve both indigenous people, such as Sámi, Evenki, Nenets and Khanty, and other nationalities irrelevant to indigenous people that can make difference in the approach towards business development. Traditionally, reindeer husbandry is a family or even a community-based business, several families uniting in small groups, co-operatives, crews or brigades (Filppa, 2005; Tyler et al., 2007; Dana and Riseth, 2011; UN). This feature, undoubtedly, adds a uniqueness to the entrepreneurial model applied (Ramadani and Hoy, 2015).

Although within such a unit livestock is officially owned by an individual herdsman, the herd is served and profit is shared between community members (Dana, 2008; Dana and Riseth, 2011; UN). On the contrary, as it was found in the Finland case, non-indigenous reindeer owners behave more as conventional entrepreneurs (Dana and Riseth, 2011).

For Russia, where the number of people potentially involved in reindeer husbandry and identified as indigenous, accounts for well over one hundred thousand individuals (The Russian national census, 2010), it was found common that women play the leading role in a community, becoming officially entrepreneur, i.e. the reindeers’ legal owner, but still remaining in a profound connection with other community members. Nonetheless, to maintain community income, women are often involved in other activities, e.g. carving, fur, clothes, felt, handicraft and jewelry manufacturing (Dana and Riseth, 2011; UN).

As opposed to a consensual view, rural communities generally feature necessary prerequisites for the development of entrepreneurship (Williams, 2011), e.g. some reindeer herder groups have been practicing agricultural trade for a long time (Reinert, 2006; Mason et al., 2012). However, to prove its success, the business model will require a thorough analysis of community entrepreneurial features that could be accomplished via quantitative and/or qualitative, or a so-called comprehensive research, where, among others, holistic inductive strategy, supplementing quantitative methods, will benefit for the better understanding of local entrepreneurship opportunities (Dana and Dana, 2005; Dana and Dumez, 2015). The latter originate from the evaluation of the entrepreneur nature and its close connections with culture and environment (Dana and Dana, 2005). To this end, Dana and Dana (2005) indicated that completing a case study would be useful for the consideration of different aspects of entrepreneurial environment.

2.2 RepRap 3-D printing

3-D printers are based on the principle of additive manufacturing and can use a variety of materials, such as polymers, ceramics and metals, among which the open source RepRap polymer-based 3-D printer has become the most popular (Pearce, 2013; Wohlers and Caffrey, 2014).

A RepRap 3-D printer works by pushing plastic filament (generally 3 or 1.75 mm in diameter) through an extruder, melting it and depositing a 2-D pattern on the substrate. The extruder is then moved up a fraction of a millimeter (normally 0.10-0.35 mm) and the next layer of the 3-D printed object is deposited. The process repeats until the entire object has been fabricated. There are many RepRap derivatives freely available on the internet ( that can be built for a small investment. For example, the MOST Delta RepRap costs under $450 in parts and can be built in approximately 8 h once the bill of materials has been collected (Irwin et al., 2014; MOST, 2014). There are also commercially available RepRaps (such as the Lulzbot Taz), which can also be upgraded by printing replacement parts. Polylactic acid (PLA) used as raw material for RepRap features strong biodegradable and recyclable properties (Gu and Catchmark, 2013; Kreiger and Pearce, 2013).

3-D printing has already come into common use (Wohlers and Caffrey, 2014): it has been put to work, for instance, in jewelry and spectacle manufacturing (Rayna and Striukova, 2016), and it was recognized to be advantageous for the sustainable development of rural communities based on small-scale organic agriculture (Pearce, 2015).

As it was discussed earlier, indigenous communities are already applying a series of modern technologies in their everyday life, e.g. computers and GPS (Dana, 2008; Obydenkova and Pearce, 2016), that presumably means the readiness to furthermore adopt such disruptive innovation technologies as 3-D printing. Additionally, as it was shown, firms and entrepreneurs may benefit on the development of such technologies (Rayna and Striukova, 2016; Gërguri-Rashiti et al., 2017).

3. Methods

3.1 Equipment – RepRap 3-D printers

RepRaps are chosen for this study as reindeer herders, who are not only isolated for large portions of the year but also generally handy at fixing equipment, would best be served by a 3-D printer they could maintain themselves. Having access to a machine that they can take apart, fix, upgrade and try their own modifications on provides far more value at a significantly lower cost than a conventional tooling arrangement with warranties and spare parts that simply not be available when transportation is eliminated (Yu et al., 2014). All of the MOST Delta RepRap design files, schematics, build instructions and bill of materials are available for free on To simplify the economics, it is assumed that the RepRaps will be powered with a solar photovoltaic and battery system following previously released open source designs (King et al., 2014; Khan et al., 2018). The cost of the electrical conversion in a high population center is approximately US$600.

3.2 Free and open-source software

All of the software necessary to design and operate RepRap 3-D printers is free and open source software that can be used for no costs. For reindeer herders seeking to minimize computing costs as well, older low-cost computers can be recycled into useful machines by installing a GNU/Linux ( based operating system such as Debian ( In addition, open-source computers such as the $35 Raspberry Pi ( can be attached to recycled peripherals to operate the RepRap 3-D printer. Pi-top (Raspberry Pi powered laptop) can be purchased in kit form for $300.

3-D digital designs can be created by reindeer herders themselves or customized from existing designs using OpenSCAD (, which is a free and open-source script-based solid modeling program. OpenSCAD using parametric variables that automatically manipulate the entire part to enable simple modifications without the need for deep knowledge in 3-D modeling. Farmers that are comfortable with basic geometry can create complex designs by manipulating primitive shapes (e.g. spheres, cubes and cylinders). OpenSCAD then generates STL (STereoLithography) files of the finished parts, which are sliced with the open-source Cura ( before printing. Parts that need structural strength are printed solid with 100 per cent infill, while non-critical components can be printed with lower infills savings time, energy and plastic costs. Conventional RepRap firmware or the new Franklin printer firmware (Wijnen et al., 2016) was used on the printer itself.

3.3 Materials

RepRaps typically print in PLA or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), although many other polymer and even metal materials are possible. In this study, PLA will be evaluated, as it is a strong plastic – better than ABS – which for comparison is used to make Lego blocks (Tymrak et al., 2014). In a study of RepRap-printed PLA, the average tensile strengths ranged from 28.5 MPa for ABS and 56.6 MPa for PLA (Tymrak et al., 2014). PLA is a bio-based plastic made up of a repeating chain of lactic acid and it is recyclable using conventional methods. In addition, PLA can be composted like other organic matter. The price of PLA is currently $15.52/kg on Ebay (2015). Transport and shipping fees to the tundra have been taken at the level of $11.69/kg of raw material.

The second material used was a flexible thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) type filament made of thermoplastic polyurethane under the tradename NinjaFlex. The TPE bonds directly to glass and prints at 210-225°C at 30mm/s, which is slower than the stiffer thermoplastics. The price of ninjaflex is $31.57/kg (Sain Smart, 2015). Again, the transport and shipping fees to the tundra have been taken at the level of $11.69/kg.

3.4 Case study of printable objects

As the subsistence of most northern nomadic societies is crucially dependent on reindeer husbandry that contributes to the self-sufficiency of indigenous communities in the area of food supply, clothing, dwelling insulation, transportation and in the community income, it is important to test the viability of 3-D printing for the manufacturing of goods needful for reindeer herding. For these purposes, three case studies of printable objects important for reindeer breeding have been selected:

  1. ear-tags;

  2. electric fence components; and

  3. a reindeer lasso accessory.

3.4.1 Ear-tags.

Ear-tags are unique color-coded labels attached to a reindeer’s ear comprising a set of numbers that clearly indicate the animal’s age and ownership (Godkin, 1986; Reindeer Husbandry Act, 1971; Andersen, 2011; Clarke and Dieterich, 1990), though other techniques for ownership identification still persist, such as making notches in calf ears, as it is used by some Sami people (Beach, 2007).

Usually, fawns are liable to tagging that is provided during the summer season, after calving. The number of calves is dependent on different factors (current economics, limits on livestock imposed by the authorities, etc.); however, under a stable environment, it must result directly from the number of reindeers owned by herders. Statistics given by Filppa (2005) indicates that, for instance, in Finland, from 1980 to 2004, the proportion of calves varied from 39.8 per cent (1980/1981) to 57.2 per cent (2003/2004) of the total amount of reindeers registered over the winter, while in Canada, in 1970s and 1980s, the number of yearly tagged fawns amounted to merely 23.4 per cent (Godkin, 1986). Hence, the average rate of 36 per cent of tagged fawns is approximated for the rest of countries (Table I).

The design of the 3-D printed ear-tags was made using open source, script-based 3-D CAD software (OpenSCAD). The design is dependent on a list of variables that can be changed to alter the design. Two lines of text were placed in the design that can be altered to make unique identifying numbers or names for each tag and can be quickly changed through the use of the variables. The text is recessed into the ear-tag to facilitate 3-D printing and to prevent the text from becoming unreadable. The text is also scaled to the dimensions of the ear-tag, which can also be altered by the variables. It is possible, through the altering of variables, to make many completely unique ear-tags from one file.

The ear-tag design is divided into two components: the ear-tag and the peg used to hold the ear-tag in place. The ear-tag was printed using TPE, a strong, flexible and durable polymer. The tag was printed with 35 per cent of the interior volume is filled to make it lightweight and strong. The peg was printed using PLA and was printed solid so as to make it as strong as possible.

The average retail price of manufactured ear-tags is US$29 per bag of 23 (, of US$1.26 per tag. However, a low population density and the extreme remoteness of nomadic camps from any distribution or retailer center affect the good’s price on site, which is substantially increased (Hageback and Segerstedt, 2004; Yu et al., 2014).

The Norwegian case (Solvang and Hakam, 2010) has been applied to calculate this surplus cost. Following this example, goods after having been delivered from Oslo to Narvik by train (that is about 250 km) are distributed by trucks to the main centers such as Tromso located inside a traditional reindeer herding area Troms another 250 km away. In order to be delivered straight to the reindeer grazing areas [e.g. Kvaloy, Ringvassoy, Rebbnesoy and Northern Senja (Landbruksdirektoratet, 2013)], the goods are moved by smaller trucks and ferry across distances ranging from 13 to 230 km. Hence, transportation surplus payment might be calculated assuming an average round-trip distance of 240 km, a standard pickup to deliver ear-tags to an individual reindeer herding group, with gasoline consumption of about 14 L/100 km and gasoline price of US$1.878/L, as of 1 July, 2015 (Statistics Norway, 2015; Bloomberg Business, 2015). As ear-tags are delivered once per year, for instance, before or during the calving period, the transportation surplus payment amounts to about US$63.10 per one reindeer herding group.

Annual expenses for manufactured ear-tags per one reindeer herding group by country are provided in Table II, assuming a 20-year ear-tag lifespan that is equal to the life expectancy of a semi-domesticated reindeer and given the use of one ear-tag per animal.

3.4.2 Electric fence components.

Because of a set of reasons, including those related to pastures size, rough landscape and the type of herding (i.e. so-called herd-following) (Anderson et al., 2014), regular winter and summer pastures are not fenced as a rule, with only several exceptions, such as, for instance, those observed in Finland where seasonal pastures are separated by grazing cycle fences (Reindeer Herders’ Association, 2014).

However, there are several cases, when the use of temporary fences during calving and post-calving time (i.e. in the summer season) is needed. Examples include:

The length of such fences may reach up to dozens of kilometers (Reindeer Herders’ Association, 2014).

Those types of fences are expected to be lightweight and movable to provide an appropriate reindeer guide path that might be reached by the use of five-strand high tensile smooth wire electric fence (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, 1996).

The most plentiful set of plastic goods necessary to deploy electric fence are different types of insulators, which can be manufactured with the use of a 3-D printer (Table III).

The potential yearly required number of insulators, provided in Table IV, is dependent directly on the number of reindeer in a herd and on the number of reindeer-herding groups. The Finnish case indicates that at least 10 km of temporary fences is deployed by each group (Reindeer Herders’ Association, 2014). Actually, there are about 690 families practicing full-time reindeer husbandry (Filppa, 2005) that in fact represent reindeer-herding groups, and, hence, each group on average owns a herd of 291 species. Thus, the approach of calculating the load of a 3-D printer based on the number of reindeer in a herd belonging to an individual reindeer-herding group might be applied to the rest of countries where the exact number of herding groups is unknown (Table IV). A five-year insulator lifespan that is equal to warranty period provided by manufactures was assumed to evaluate annual demand for the articles.

The electric fence components were also designed using variables in OpenSCAD. Altering them allows the user to change all dimensions of the component, such as the wire retainer thickness and the diameter of the screw holes for attaching the component to a post. The component is printed in PLA and near solid (around 80-90 per cent infill) to make it durable.

Annual expenses for purchase and delivery of insulators are provided in Table V, assuming average purchase price on the market for line (nail or screw onto post) and tie-off insulators of US$12 and US$21 per bag of 50, respectively (, The approach for the calculation of the additional cost of insulator delivery to a site is similar to that described in Section 2.4.1.

3.4.3 Lasso accessory.

Lassos are commonly used as reindeer herding tools to catch and hold a reindeer, and is comprised by a length of rope and a lasso accessory – a figure eight pattern (International Center for Reindeer Husbandry, 2015) or perforated plate, called a kielasta in Finnish. A few other terms in local languages are used sometimes to denote those objects. The accessories are necessary to create a noose which is set to be tightened around reindeer antler. Historically, they used to be made of bone or hartshorn; however, because of the value of the materials involved in their manufacturing, other improvised substances have become more commonly used for that purpose. There is not too much information available on this matter, and from one indigenous community to another the mentioned accessory is different in size, weight and even in its shape. For instance, the figure eight pattern made of hartshorn used in the Russian Amur Region has the following dimensions: 35 mm and 20 mm for the outer diameter and 20 mm and 10 mm for the inner one (Figure 1), and a little different form of the lasso accessory made of hartshorn by a Norwegian manufacturer is of 10 cm in length and weighs 25 g (Duodjin, 2015).

Skills in lasso throwing along with the most successful lasso designs are revealed via herder competitions such as, for instance, World Reindeer Herders Lasso Championships (International Center for Reindeer Husbandry, 2015). The latter indicates the importance of lasso traditions for the reindeer husbandry culture.

Given this, the current case study is of a design of printed plastic “Figure–8” lasso accessory, or kielasta. The number of lasso accessories used in each community might be evaluated assuming that every adolescent and every adult before the age of 69 practices lasso, and not only men but also herdsmen’s wives and even children learn and exercise the skills of throwing lasso at their duties, and especially in training at schools, as well as during herders’ competitions (Table VI).

The lasso accessory was designed using variables in OpenSCAD. Altering the core variables allows the user to change all dimensions of the component to meet his or her needs for the specific type of rope, for example. The component is printed in PLA and although it should have several outer complete layers can be printed with a smaller infill (e.g. 25 per cent infill) than the first two examples.

The lasso accessory made of hartshorn, according to data provided by a Norwegian retailer (Duodjin, 2015), costs about US$53 for a bag of 23 or US$2.30/per kielasta. Annual expenses for the lasso accessory are listed in Table VII, assuming a one-year accessory durability. As the lasso accessory might be manufactured by herders on site, the surplus cost of transportation is not taken into calculation.

4. Results

4.1 Ear-tags

The ear-tags were successfully fabricated with 3-D printing as shown in Plate 1.

As all items considered in this study are lightweight with the total yearly average weight of all items per one reindeer group amounting to a mere 5.4 kg, and are also produced from universal generic material, the feedstock of all items is supposed to be delivered by each group only once per year. To that end, in order to consider surplus transportation payment for raw material delivery, the figure derived in Section 2.4.1, i.e. US $63.10 per one trip, is used to get a specific value of US$11.69 per kg of raw 3-D printing materials.

Thus, the total potential annual savings arising from the use of 3-D printing for ear-tags amounts to US $742,115 globally (Table VIII).

4.2 Electric fence components

A parametric customizable electric fence component was successfully designed and printed in PLA, weighing 4 g as shown in Plate 2.

Potential economic savings from this case study have been calculated to be more than a million US dollars per year (Table VIII).

4.3 Lasso accessory

A parametric customizable lasso accessory successfully 3-D printed. The exact weight will depend on the infill and the custom dimensions. Here, the default printed in low-resolution on a TAZ-mini is 27.3 g and is shown in Plate 3.

The annual saving from the three object classes in the current case study amounts to US$255,033 (Table VIII).

One of the most important material properties of the objects is the accessory’s tensile strength, as it must withstand a material load when a reindeer is caught and held. The average tensile strength of PLA amounts to 56.6 MPa (Tymrak et al., 2014). Although the item made of compact dry antler bone is supposed to withstand higher loads, according to Rajaram and Ramanathan (1982), tensile strength of a wet and dry compact antler bone is 108 ± 5.1 and 188 ± 12 MPa, respectively. The mechanical characteristics of PLA are in the same range as those of nylon and polyester, which lasso ropes are usually being made of indicating that the accessory should be adequately strong for this application. Made of PLA, the tool would be perfectly suitable for the application with the purposes of training.

5. Discussion

The implementation of 3-D printing technology for the local good manufacturing and its contribution to the development of reindeer herding communities should be considered from a number of aspects, namely, from (i) economic and (ii) environmental point of view, (iii) mitigation of risks in the supply chain, (iv) development of entrepreneurship and (v) taking into account other advanced features that become available because of the local 3-D printing manufacturing.

5.1 Economic means

As it has been shown, the total price for the goods’ manufacturing on-site with use of 3-D printing technology, including surplus transportation payment for raw material delivery, can be decreased by 63.2 per cent compared to the cost of ready-made article purchase and delivery (Figure 2). Price breakdown of 3-D printed objects is as follows: 63.4 per cent is the cost of raw materials and 36.6 per cent is the shipping cost. The cost reduction is mainly because of manufacturing process, (decrease by 68.4 per cent) and lesser for surplus transportation payment, which is reduced with the use of 3-D printing by half because of a decrease in the number of trips.

Thus, with the total annual saving from the project of over US$2m globally, the average saving per reindeer herding group would amount to US$307.70 that, given only three types of 3D manufactured items used, would account for 1.6 per cent of a herder’s annual income as it was reported by (Tyler et al., 2007).

As one of the main goals of the project was to prove the viability of the local 3-D printing manufacturing, the economic evaluations as above consider only the most significant expenses and do not consider such aspects as amortization, which actually can be applied for both 3-D printer ant vehicle and inflation.

The simple payback period of the project for a community using LulzBot Mini 3-D Printer that costs US$1,350 (, a pi-top that costs US$300 and the photovoltaic power for them both that costs US$600 and keeping shipping cost at the level of at least 30 per cent from the total sum, amounts roughly to 9.5 years. This is a positive high return on investment, but still a long time for a household to wait for a return. However, it must be pointed out that this simple payback is for only the three example items investigated here. There are more than a million open source 3-D printable objects already available on the Web and previous students have shown that consumers can save substantial sums manufacturing their own products (Wittbrodt et al., 2015). Nevertheless, a more accurate calculation of the actual use and products printed by herders is needed to provide accurate project payback periods for this application.

Options for a further price reductions and value increases and, therefore, payback period reductions given the ample use of sustainable and economical distributed 3-D printing for herder needs may include the reutilization of wasted goods (Kreiger et al., 2014), the delivery of a higher raw material load per one trip and increasing workload for 3-D printer allowing more useful/valuable objects to be manufactured as it may be required.

Technical limitations arising for implementation of distributed 3-D printing technology into reindeer husbandry are mainly related to solar radiation conditions specific for sub-Arctic and Arctic regions. However, since, all the considered printable objects are required, mainly, during spring and summer seasons, when daily radiation reaches its maximal values [e.g. for northern part of Norway, up to 3.5 kWh/m2/day in April and more than 5.5 kWh/m2/day in June (NASA Atmospheric Science Data Center, 2015)], solar conditions might not be crucial for the project. Future experimental work is needed in the field to verify this potential.

5.2 Environmental impact minimization

PLA used for the item manufacturing refers to biodegradable nonhazardous materials produced from bio-sugar-based sources (Gu and Catchmark, 2013). Kreiger and Pearce (2013) proved through conducting the life-cycle analysis a sensible reduction of life cycle GHG emissions for a set of items manufactured from PLA on-site using a RepRap printer coupled with solar photovoltaic arrays when compared to conventional manufacturing.

An additional environmental benefit can be expected from the reduction of cargo transportation that may turn out significant because of the dramatic remoteness of reindeer grazing areas, a difficult landscape and a low population density, resulting in the necessity for the individual delivery of goods. As it has been shown in the Norwegian case, an average cargo roundtrip from the nearest distribution center to the reindeer grazing area (i.e. for the individual reindeer herding group) amounts to 240 km.

The amount of GHG originating from burning gasoline in vehicle engines can be calculated based on specific figures of emissions per unit of distance driven, provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency for light-duty trucks featuring gasoline consumption of 0.14 L/km (EPA, 2008). Thus, assuming that the introduction of 3-D printing for the local goods manufacturing allows to reduce freight traffic by at least 50 per cent, annual avoided CO2 tailpipe emissions can reach 0.077 tons per one herder’s group and, globally, 0.5 to 1.1 kTCO2 depending on the calculation of the number of herder groups worldwide. To compare, in 2008, CO2 emissions originating from the US commercial light trucks amounted to 42.64 MMT (Greene et al., 2011). The latter figure may imply a great potential for the reduction of GHG emissions from the existing commercial transportation. A full life-cycle analysis is needed to quantify the environmental impact reduction used for distributed manufacturing with 3-D printing in this context.

5.3 Mitigation of risks in supply chain

Other obvious advantages that might be offered by the use of 3-D printing for the local goods manufacturing is the attainment of self-sufficiency in the supply chain, that as it was discussed can be of a serious concern for herders settled in mountain areas exposed to the extreme Arctic and sub-Arctic climate (Solvang and Hakam, 2010), and one of the main advantages of 3-D printing contributing to a more secure supply chain is its uniform raw material input. The latter feature implies that after 3-D printing introduction, the variety of products to be supplied to the site shrinks notably, allowing to develop a more efficient logistics for the supplies.

5.4 Development of entrepreneurship

As it was discussed in the literature review section, rural communities feature existing prerequisites for the development of entrepreneurship (Williams, 2011). Moreover, numerous studies supported by facts from our collaboration with northern indigenous communities have indicated at the willingness of those communities to develop other trading lines. For instance, on occasion, herder wives are creating and selling handicrafts, local footwear and clothes that in its turn feature different plastic details (e.g. beads) that can be fabricated with the use of a 3-D printer.

On the other hand, in spite of a gradual increase in the 3-D printer affordability, there is still a recognizable gap between local and household fabrication, where the first one refers to so called direct digital manufacturing where a business model implies that goods are printed at a community printshop (Rayna and Striukova, 2016). However, the latter can be beneficial for herders, given that traditional reindeer husbandry, as it was discussed in the literature section, basically follows the community-based entrepreneurial model. Laplume et al. (2016) have also showed that at the current printer price, the 3-D printing business model has become already viable and can offer essential profitability if a printer is set to serve community needs.

From the point of view of entrepreneurship development, such performance would signify that a local entrepreneur’s use of 3-D printing would be able to hike their revenues significantly from producing goods on-site and on request. This assumption becomes more plausible if a spectrum of applications where the use of 3-D printing technology has already proved its feasibility, e.g. for printing jewelry objects, spectacles (Rayna and Striukova, 2016), is considered.

As Smith (2012) indicated, “entrepreneurship is about effecting change”, that can be interpreted for an indigenous community practicing reindeer husbandry as a model of activity resulting in a higher community prosperity without compromising cultural values, the latter found of a very significant importance for those people. As it was discussed in the literature (Dana, 2008; Obydenkova and Pearce, 2016), reindeer herders already use a wide range of technological innovation and can be anticipated to continue to adopt new technologies in the future. The current case study has revealed the possibility to use printable on-site objects (e.g. ear-tags and fence insulators) instead of purchasing similar items for higher prices without damaging indigenous traditions.

5.5 Other advanced features

Several other advanced features related to the local goods manufacturing with the use of 3-D printing might be considered.

In the area of the local ear-tag manufacturing, the technology provides opportunities for an imminent addition to the label of other information that might be helpful for herding (e.g. sex and the most important medical records), allows to control the number of printed tags dependent on real birth rate data and promotes the possibility of an urgent replacement of an ear-tag in the case of its damage or loss.

The use of temporary electric fences, that may become more realistic with local 3-D printing manufacturing of the plastic fence patterns (such as insulators and others), provides more efficient protection from predators such as wolves, bears and lynxes (Knipe, 1985) threatening both calves and adult reindeer (Anderson et al., 2014; Godkin, 1986; Sami Statistics, 2010; Tyler et al., 2007). This can be a significant benefit. For example, the yearly rate of calve losses in Finnmark and Norway reaches up to 30-65 per cent (Tyler et al., 2007). Moreover, as such types of fences are set to be used during the summer season, the installation can benefit from the use of solar photovoltaic technology as the source of power (NREL, 1997). To this point, Obydenkova and Pearce (2016), while investigating the feasibility of solar photovoltaics set to serve electric needs of herder nomadic camps in areas of reindeer husbandry deployment, showed the competitiveness of energy supply from photovoltaic compared to fuel-based systems.

The other obvious advantage of electric fences compared to the conventional wooden ones is a more modest demand for timber for fence construction that otherwise may become an issue on remote locations, especially in tundra, and, additionally, a conventional fence might be up to ten times more expensive than electric one (Worley, 2015).

6. Implications, future research and conclusions

This paper considers the feasibility of 3-D printing technology to be used for the local good manufacturing for the needs of the reindeer herder society. Three case studies of 3-D printable objects have been explored: ear-tags, electric fence components and a reindeer lasso accessory. The articles were designed and printed with the use of the RepRap 3-D printers using free and open source software. All objects have been successfully printed and featured similar characteristics to those available on the market.

The results point at a potential significant reduction in prices for goods manufactured via 3-D printing on-site, by 63.2 per cent in total, which is because of both lesser cost of manufacturing and reduced transportation costs. The cost of the latter is reduced by half because of a decrease in the number of trips.

The total annual saving from the project amounts to over US$2m globally or, on the average basis, US$307 per one reindeer herding group.

The investigation of other features of 3-D printing development trends that can benefit remote rural community has revealed opportunities for the mitigation of environmental impact, the development of entrepreneurship and the enhancement of agricultural practices, in reindeer husbandry in particular, without compromising the cultural identity of indigenous lifestyle.

The precise cases covered by this study represent a significant interest in terms of the project’s further potential expansion, as reindeer husbandry is only one segment of farming, and hence, those studies may be promising for many other farming segments from economic and environmental points of view.

It should be also noted that as the paper is the first-ever study of 3-D printing potential applied to the reindeer husbandry case, it is based on a more thorough analysis of the techno-economic feasibility of the technology, while cultural and entrepreneurial factors have been discussed as preconditions only. Undoubtedly, to develop a successful business model, the latter requires an even more detailed investigation, especially with the involvement of a holistic–inductive research, as suggested by Dana and Dana (2005), that becomes increasingly important given cultural features intrinsic to such communities.


The figure-8 pattern made of Hartshorn, manufactured by the Russian Evenks

Figure 1.

The figure-8 pattern made of Hartshorn, manufactured by the Russian Evenks

3-D Printed ear-tag. PLA is in grey and NinjaFlex in black

Plate 1.

3-D Printed ear-tag. PLA is in grey and NinjaFlex in black

3-D Printed electric fence insulator

Plate 2.

3-D Printed electric fence insulator

Lasso accessory – fully parametric and able to be customize, size and color

Plate 3.

Lasso accessory – fully parametric and able to be customize, size and color

Total articles cost: manufactured off-site and on-site with use of 3-D printer

Figure 2.

Total articles cost: manufactured off-site and on-site with use of 3-D printer

Yearly required number of ear-tags which can be manufactured by 3-D printing

Country No. of reindeers Rate of calves (%) No. of ear-tags required per year
Finland (Filppa, 2005) 201,058 48.5 97,513
Canada (Godkin, 1986) 12,800 23.4 2,995
Sweden (Moen, 2008) 225,000 36.0 81,000
Norway (Sami Statistics, 2010) 252,410 90,868
Russia (Baskin, 2005) 1,200,000 432,000
The USA (Alaska) (Jernsletten and Klokov, 2002) 17,650 6,354
Mongolia (The International Center for Reindeer Husbandry) 700 252
China 1,000 360
Total 708,588

Yearly herder group expenses for ear-tags

Country The yearly expenses for the ear-tags, US $/year(a)
By reindeer herding group By country
Finland 241 166,290
Norway 195 169,065
Sweden 150,735
Russia 804,920
The USA, Alaska 11,861
Mongolia 390
China 585
Canada 149 6,556
Total 1,310,402

Including expenses for good purchase and delivery

Insulator specification for electric fencing according to Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (1996)

Material No. per 1 km of level terrain
Line insulators (nail or screw onto post) 328
Tie-off insulators 12 (assuming at least 4 change of direction)

Yearly required number of insulators for electric fencing which can be manufactured by 3-D printing

Country No. of Reindeer-Herding Groups No. of insulators for electric fence required per year (by country)
Line insulators Tie-off insulators Total
Finland 690 452,640 16,560 469,200
Norway 867 568,752 20,808 589,560
Sweden 773 507,088 18,552 525,640
The USA, Alaska 61 40,016 1,464 41,480
Mongolia 2 1,312 48 1,360
China 3 1,968 72 2,040
Russia 4,124 2,705,344 98,976 2,804,320
Canada 44 28,864 1,056 29,920
Total 4,305,984 157,536 4,463,520

Yearly expenses for electric fence insulators

Country Yearly expenses for electric fence insulators, US $/year(a)
By Reindeer Herding Group By country
Finland 230.6 159,114
Norway 199,930
Sweden 178,254
The USA, Alaska 14,067
Mongolia 461
China 692
Russia 950,994
Canada 10,146
Total 1,513,658

Including expenses for good purchase and delivery

Number of accessories for the lasso which can be manufactured by 3-D printing

Country No. of people potentially involved in Reindeer husbandry Approx. rate of adolescents and adults(a), % of total pop No. of the lasso accessories
Finland (Filppa, 2005; Index Mundi, 2018) 5,344 64.4 3,442
Norway (Sami statistics, 2010; Sami in Sweden) 57,500 74.7 42,953
Sweden (Sami in Sweden; Index Mundi, 2018) 30,000 63.2 18,960
The USA, Alaska (Jernsletten and Klokov, 2002) 150 (number of people directly involved in the reindeer husbandry) 150
Mongolia (The International Center for Reindeer Husbandry;
Index Mundi, 2018)
200 69.1 138
China (The International Center for Reindeer Husbandry;
Index Mundi, 2018)
234 73.3 172
Russia (The Russian national census, 2010) 138,206 67.6 93,427
Canada (Statistics Canada) 3,668 75.0 2,751
Total 161,993

The figure refers to approx. rate of people between 15 (19 in some cases) and 69, age groups of potential users of lasso

Yearly expenses for lasso accessory made of hartshorn

Country Yearly expenses for lasso accessory, US $/year
By reindeer herding group By country
Finland 11.5 7,932
Norway 114.2 98,979
Sweden 56.5 43,690
The USA, Alaska 5.7 346
Mongolia 159 318
China 132.1 396
Russia 52.2 215,288
Canada 144.1 6,339
Total 373,288

Saving estimates from distributed manufacturing of ear-tags, electric fence insulators and lasso accessories

Component Mass (g) Raw material cost + Shipping cost
Cost per component
(US $/component)
Total annual cost for all 3-D printed manufactured case study items Total potential annual savings, (US$/year)
Manufacturing Delivery For all manufactured articles, (US$/year) For raw materials delivery, (US$/year)
Ear-tag case study
Tag 17.7 32 + 11.69 $0.57 $0.21 403,895 148,803 742,115
Plug 0.8 15 + 11.69 $0.012 $0.01 8,503 7,086
Electric fence insulators case study
Electric insulator 4 15 + 11.69 $0.06 $0.05 267,811 223,176 1,022,671
Lasso accessory case study
Figure-8 lasso accessory 27.3 15 + 11.69 $0.41 $0.32 66,417 51,838 255,033
Total 746,626 430,903 2,019,819


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Further reading

Government of Canada (2018), “Statistics Canada”, available at: (accessed 15 July 2015).

UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and UNESCO Institute of Information Technologies in Education Climate Change Adaptation (2018), “Traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic and Far North”, available at: (accessed July 12 January 2017).


The authors appreciate invaluable information on the details of reindeer husbandry provided by community representatives of Ust-Nukzha village, Russia, and reindeer herders Vladimir A. Nickolaev and Galina S. Nickolaeva in particular.

This paper forms part of a special section “Entrepreneurial co-creation: a call for fresh ideas and innovative”, guest edited by Hans Kaufmann and S.M. Riad Shams.

Corresponding author

Svetlana Obydenkova can be contacted at: