25 September 2023

A 3D-printed dunny in Dubbo could hold the key to unlocking the Riverina's housing crisis

| Chris Roe
Start the conversation
Tourists have shown a keen interest in the block of toilets.

Tourists have shown a keen interest in the block of toilets. Photo: Supplied.

This grey concrete amenities facility in western NSW may not look like a technological marvel, but according to Dubbo Regional Council, it’s a landmark step towards the future.

The humble dunny block in West Dubbo is the first building constructed by an Australian council using 3D printing technology.

“It sounds a bit silly to talk about a toilet block as a tourist attraction,” laughed Dubbo City Mayor Matthew Dickerson, who explained that the new facility was generating national interest.

“I don’t think they’re coming to Dubbo just for the 3D-printed toilet, but once they’re here and they hear about it, they want to go and look at it.”

READ ALSO NSW Government charging market rates to build affordable housing on unused land, despite crisis

Cr Dickerson said they had already seen a procession of government ministers and 10 NSW councils had reached out to learn about the process.

“There’s no doubt about it, it’s something that people are looking into for the future,” he said.

Wagga City Councillor Richard Foley is keen to trial the technology in the Riverina where he believes it could provide much-needed affordable housing and accommodation for incoming infrastructure workers.

“This is going to be the biggest market disruption technology in the building industry and I think we should get on the front foot,” he said.

“They can build a standard three-bedroom house, with all the exterior and interior walls, in 90 hours.”

The 3D printing process took just 25 hours to complete in Dubbo.

The 3D printing process took just 25 hours to complete in Dubbo. Photo: Contour3D.

The emerging technology is already in use in other countries fabricating “printable concrete” structures that are strong, quickly built and cost-effective.

The first experimental 3D-printed house was constructed in Melbourne last year in under three days and there are now a handful of companies developing their own products for the Australia market.

“This was a part of the solution to try and generate more housing in Dubbo which has a housing issue like many places across regional New South Wales,” explained Cr Dickerson.

“Lots of people want to move to Dubbo and so we need more housing to accommodate those people.

“But it’s hard to find enough trades people and to get the buildings built quickly enough.”

READ ALSO Better by design: Council’s Wagga Beach playground restoration recognised for flood resilience

Cr Foley works in the building industry as a plasterer and agreed the technology could also help with the shortage of tradespeople.

“There’s less tradies needed to build some of this and we’re already not getting enough coming through – bricklayers are a dying breed,” he said, adding that electricians, plumbers and builders would still be needed for the final fit-out.

“It takes a long time to conventionally build a house and with this, you’re gonna smash that down into a third of the time.”

In Dubbo, the council began looking into 3D printing several years ago and agreed to reserve four blocks of land in a new housing estate to give it a go.

The initial timeline was still for “a few years down the road”, but Cr Dickerson said that as soon as word of the project got out, they were approached by companies keen to be involved.

“We ended up doing approximately nine video calls with different companies who said they wanted to come and start doing 3D printing in Dubbo immediately,” he said.

“When we investigated further we found there was something stopping them from coming in and doing it immediately because the planning laws in the state probably weren’t quite up to speed with 3D printing as a technology for building.”

Dubbo City Mayor Matthew Dickerson (centre) opens the new facility.

Dubbo City Mayor Matthew Dickerson (centre) opens the new facility. Photo: Supplied.

While council planning staff got to work with the State Government to sort out the red tape, the imminent need to replace a 50-year-old amenities block provided the perfect opportunity to trial the technology.

Australian company Contour3D was awarded the tender at a price below expectations and Cr Dickerson said that what followed was a “spectator sport” as hundreds of locals came down for a look.

“It was quite incredible in terms of the speed of the actual construction,” he said.

“They literally set up the gantry on one weekend. They started the printing a few days later. The printing was finished, they packed up the gantry and went home.”

According to Contour3D’s website, the project involved 25 tonnes of concrete over 149 sqm and the printing was completed in 25 hours.

Cr Dickerson said the amenities block gave locals the opportunity to take a look at the product and become “comfortable with the idea of a 3D printed house” and he hoped this initiative would inspire other councils and regional developers to look at using the technology.

Cr Foley hopes Wagga City Council will be one of those.

“The first step is looking for proof of concept. The second step is to build something here for exhibition,” he said.

“Let’s get bold with this, and indeed consider any other technology that could be around, and then we can start addressing the issue.”

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.