Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Mechanical Engineering

Major Professor

Rasim Guldiken


Bolt Preload, Structural Health Monitoring, Surface Acoustic Waves, Synthetic Phased Array, Ultrasonic Imaging


The threaded fasteners are one of the most versatile methods for assembly of structural components. For example, in bridges large bolts are used to fix base columns and small bolts are used to support access ladders. Naturally not all bolts are critical for the operation of the structure. Fasteners loaded with small forces and present in large quantities do not receive the same treatment as the critical bolts. Typical maintenance operations such tension measurements, internal stress checking or monitoring of crack development are not practical due to cost and time constrains. Although failure of a single non-critical fastener is not a significant threat to the structure's stability, massive malfunction may cause structural problem such as insufficient stiffness or excessive vibrations.

The health of bolted joints is defined by a single parameter: the clamping force (CF). The CF is the force that holds the elements of the joint together. If the CF is too low, separation and bolt fatigue may occur. On the other hand, excessive CF may produce damages in the structural members such as excessive distortion or breakage. The CF is generated by the superposition of the individual tension of the bolts. The bolt tension, also referred as bolt preload, is the actual force that is stretching the bolt body. Maintaining the appropriate tension in bolts ensures a proper CF and hence a good health of the joint.

In this thesis, a novel methodology for estimating the tension in bolts using surface acoustic waves (SAWs) is investigated. The tension is estimated by using the reflection of SAWs created by the bolt head interference. Increments in the bolt tension raise the points of interaction between the waves and the bolt head (real area of contact), and hence the position of the reflective boundaries. The variations are estimated using the "conventional linear synthetic array" imaging technique. A singular transducer is actuated from predefined positions to produce an array of signals that are subsequently arranged and added to construct an acoustic image.

Three sets of experiment are presented in this research for validating the proposed concept: tension estimation of a ¼ inch stainless steel bolt, a ½ inch stainless steel bolt and ¼ inch grade 8 bolt. Acoustic images of the surface of the clamped plate illustrate a clear trend in the position of the reflective boundary when torque is changed. In all cases, the torque increments increase the real area of contact and therefore the position of the reflective boundary. As expected, the real area of contact grew from the bolt head center to the perimeter, which causes an effect of apparent movement of the boundary. This research proves the potential of the ultrasonic imaging methodology to measure applied tension. The result showed that the system can be used to successfully inspect tension in bolts of ½ and ¼ inches. The methodology investigated in this thesis is the first steps towards the development of bolt tension sensor based on surface acoustic waves.