A mechanical petanque party in a sunny Van Heekpark

| Stan Waning

Twelve groups of first-year Mechanical Engineering students played a jeu de boules competition on Thursday morning. The tournament was the culmination of months of designing, analysing and producing a mechanised petanque machine.

The organizers of the event have chosen the perfect day in the Gerrit Jan van Heekpark. It's chilly Thursday morning, but not cold. The sun shines pleasantly and brightly over the courts of JBV Enschede. A group of seniors – all members of the local association – watch how the twelve project groups prepare their installations. A woman nudges her neighbor. 'What do you think, Bennie?' The man starts laughing. 'I think it's wonderful. I think a few installations can go directly to Ukraine. What a bombers!'

A little further on, Jurnan Schilder is watching how the preparation of the teams is going. Before a ball has even been launched, the assistant professor dares to make a promise. 'The differences between the teams will be huge. And those differences are not so much made today, but they have been made in the workshop in recent weeks.'


In September, the first-year students were given the assignment to design a machine that could be used to play a game of jeu de boules. The freedom in the assignment was considerable. 'They were allowed to figure out everything themselves, from design to analysis to production: if only there was a machine today. The only requirement: the machine has to work mechanically, so without a battery or power supply,' says Schilder.

Schilder receives support in the park from workshop staff and teachers. And with the perfect jeu de boules names, semester coordinator Boukje de Gooijer and project coordinator Justine Decrozant-Triquenaux are also present. The fact that the students have been given complete freedom in recent months can be seen in the completely different designs. One model is compact and austere, the other grand and intricate. One project group even opted for a bright pink model. 'And we are the only group that works with a kind of underhand sling, instead of all the mortar techniques next to us,' says a member of the group.

After an intensive preparation, which runs a little late, the competition starts. One team shoots out of the starting blocks and throws the boule impressively close to the jack. Other teams are still busy with a bus WD-40 to optimize, yet another team hopes to make it to the start by installing some tie wraps.

Eternal fame

Fifteen minutes of watching is enough to underline Schilder's prediction: the differences are enormous. The competition for the top prize – eternal fame and a grade 10 – is dwindling rapidly. In the end, project group 7 goes with the win. The group of seniors thinks the performance of the winners is great, but does not fear competition. 'We're still throwing better than that machine, I'm sure.' Schilder is secretly looking ahead to next year's assignment. 'Nothing is certain yet, but after the successes of curling, golf and now jeu de boules, another great sport is high on the wish list: shuffleboard!'

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