Acoustic emission is widely used for monitoring pressure vessels, pipes, critical infrastructure, as well as land, sea and air vehicles. It is one of dominant approaches to explore material degradation under fatigue and events leading to material fracture. Addressing a recent interest in structural health monitoring of space vehicles, a need has emerged to evaluate material deterioration due to thermal fatigue during spacecraft atmospheric reentry. Thermal fatigue experiments were conducted, in which aluminum plates were subjected to localized heating and acoustic emission was monitoring by embedded and conventional acoustic emission sensors positioned at various distances from a heat source. At the same time, surface temperature of aluminum plates was monitored using an IR camera. Acoustic emission counts collected by embedded sensors were compared to counts measured with conventional acoustic emission sensors. Both types of sensors show noticeable increase of acoustic emission activity as localized heating source was applied to aluminum plates. Experimental data demonstrate correlation between temperature increase on the surface of the plates and increase in measured acoustic emission activity. It is concluded that under particular conditions, embedded piezoelectric wafer active sensors can be used for acoustic emission monitoring of thermally-induced structural degradation.
Acoustic emission (AE) is a well-known technique for monitoring onset and propagation of material damage. The technique has demonstrated utility in assessment of metallic and composite materials in applications ranging from civil structures to aerospace vehicles. While over the course of few decades AE hardware has changed dramatically with the sensors experiencing little changes. A traditional acoustic emission sensor solution utilizes a thickness resonance of the internal piezoelectric element which, coupled with internal amplification circuit, results in relatively large sensor footprint. Thin wafer piezoelectric sensors are small and unobtrusive, but they have seen limited AE applications due to low signal-to-noise ratio and other operation difficulties. In this contribution, issues and possible solutions pertaining to the utility of thin wafer piezoelectrics as AE sensors are discussed. Results of AE monitoring of fatigue damage using thin wafer piezoelectric and conventional AE sensors are presented.