In a pleasantly wooded campus outside Liege, some of Belgium's brightest aerospace brains are developing products with a global reach in the fields of space observation instrumentation and computer-aided engineering.

The Liege Science Park is home to a number of small and medium-size enterprises that the Wallonian government believes represents the region's presence at the cutting edge of European aerospace research and technology.

Samtech, which specialises in engineering software, has its headquarters in the park but has offices in China, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain and the UK. It was founded by a group of professors from Liege University in the mid-1980s and from supporting Belgian tier one suppliers in its early days, today numbers among its customers Airbus - which represents 30% of its revenues - Alenia, AVIC, Bombardier, Eurocopter, Latécoère, MBDA and Safran. It has branched into the wind energy and automotive sectors.

Samtech, which employs 250 people - 90% of them PhD engineers - and has a turnover of €20 million ($27 million), designs software tools for finite element structural analysis and other simulation technology. It is a highly specialised market in which Samtech has three main US competitors. Asia is its biggest growth opportunity, says sales manager Olivier Gramaccia. "We have had more and more success in India, Japan and South Korea in all areas of industrial activity, including automotive, space and aeronautics," he says. The company is even targeting the US market, home of rivals HKS, Ansys and MSC, where Spirit AeroSystems is its main customer and NASA a potential client in the future. In Latin America, it is about to do its first piece of business for Embraer.

Almost next door, CSL - a research centre of Liege University with 100 staff, half of them engineers and scientists - has been involved in European space observation efforts since the 1960s. It is one of four European Space Agency test facilities, involved in evaluating optical payloads and other equipment. It has also performed tests for the Herschel and Planck satellite space observation programmes.

CSL's neighbour Advanced Mechanical and Optical Systems, another Liege University spin-off, is also involved in the space exploration sector, but in precision manufacturing of opto-mechanical systems, most notably mirrors and lenses for satellites, probes and Earth observatories, as well as thermal shrouds. Among its recent projects has been delivering elements of the Auxiliary Telescope System for the European Observatory in Chile.

The company, which employs 70 people, is 45% owned by the regional government, indicating the willingness of politicians to preserve Wallonia's aerospace skills base in the absence of private investment.

However, executive director Claude Jamar says the objective is to attract outside interest. "We would like to have an acquisition by a US company or a partnership."

Source: Flight International