A state estimation framework for ultrasonic structural health monitoring of fastener hole fatigue cracks
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The development of structural monitoring systems is a critical research area because of the age and sustainment costs associated with many aircraft in use today. Specifically, integrated structural health monitoring (SHM) systems are advantageous because they allow for automated, near real-time assessment of the state of the structure, where the automation improves both the accuracy of the measurements and allows for more frequent system interrogation than possible with traditional nondestructive evaluation methods. Ultrasonic techniques are particularly well-suited for SHM systems because of their potential to detect and track damage well before structural failure using in situ sensors. The research problem considered in this thesis is detection and tracking of fatigue cracks emanating from fastener holes in metallic structural components. The sensing method utilizes attached ultrasonic transducers, and tracking of damage is achieved by employing a state estimation framework that incorporates a well-known empirical model for crack growth and a measurement model relating the ultrasonic response to crack size. The state estimation process is preceded by an automated crack detection algorithm, and can be followed by a prediction of remaining life assuming future usage. The state estimation framework provides a better estimate of crack size than either the ultrasonic measurement model or crack growth model alone. Although the example application is monitoring of fastener holes, the general approach is applicable to a variety of SHM problems.