Quantifying bolt tension and ensuring that bolts are appropriately tightened for large-scale civil infrastructures are crucial. This study investigated the feasibility of employing the surface acoustic wave (SAW) for quantifying the bolt tension via finite element modeling. The central hypothesis is that the real area of contact in a bolted joint increases as the tension or preload is increased, causing an acoustical signature change. The experimentally verified 3-D simulations were carried out in two steps: A preload was first applied to the bolt body to simulate the realistic behavior of bolted joint; and the SAW propagation was then excited on the top surface of the plate to reflect from the bolted joint. The bolt tension value was varied between 4 and 24 kN (properly tightened bolt) in the steps of 4 kN to study the effect of the bolt tension. The results indicate an increased reflected wave amplitude and a gradual phase shift, up to 0.5 µs, as the bolt tension increased. Furthermore, the result shows that the distance between the first reflected wave and the source becomes shorter as the preload increases, as hypothesized. A 1.9 mm difference in the distance between the maximum and minimum preload was observed. As part of this study, the simulation results were also compared with the experimental results, and a good agreement between the simulation and experiments was demonstrated.
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