Acoustic Emission (AE) based Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) is of great interest for detecting impact damage in composite structures. Within the aerospace industry the need to detect and locate these events, even when no visible damage is present, is important both from the maintenance and design perspectives. In this investigation, four commercially available piezoelectric sensors were evaluated for usage in an AE-based SHM system. Of particular interest was comparing the acoustic response of the candidate piezoelectric sensors for impact location estimations as well as damage classification resulting from the impact in fiber-reinforced composite structures. Sensor assessment was performed based on response signal characterization and performance for active testing at 300 kHz and steel-ball drop testing using both aluminum and carbon/epoxy composite plates. Wave mode velocities calculated from the measured arrival times were found to be in good agreement with predictions obtained using both the Disperse code and finite element analysis. Differences in the relative strength of the received wave modes, the overall signal strengths and signal-to-noise ratios were observed through the use of both active testing as well as passive steel-ball drop testing. Further comparative is focusing on assessing AE sensor performance for use in impact location estimation algorithms as well as detecting and classifying damage produced in composite structures due to impact events.

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