Real time bolt preload monitoring using piezoceramic transducers and time reversal technique—a numerical study with experimental verification
Bolted joints are ubiquitous structural elements, and form critical connections in mechanical and civil structures. As such, loosened bolted joints may lead to catastrophic failures of these structures, thus inspiring a growing interest in monitoring of bolted joints. A novel energy based wave method is proposed in this study to monitor the axial load of bolted joint connections. In this method, the time reversal technique was used to focus the energy of a piezoelectric (PZT)-generated ultrasound wave from one side of the interface to be measured as a signal peak by another PZT transducer on the other side of the interface. A tightness index (TI) was defined and used to correlate the peak amplitude to the bolt axial load. The TI bypasses the need for more complex signal processing required in other energy-based methods. A coupled, electro-mechanical analysis with elasto-plastic finite element method was used to simulate and analyze the PZT based ultrasonic wave propagation through the interface of two steel plates connected by a single nut and bolt connection. Numerical results, backed by experimental results from testing on a bolted connection between two steel plates, revealed that the peak amplitude of the focused signal increases as the bolt preload (torque level) increases due to the enlarging true contact area of the steel plates. The amplitude of the focused peak saturates and the TI reaches unity as the bolt axial load reaches a threshold value. These conditions are associated with the maximum possible true contact area between the surfaces of the bolted connection.