Linear and nonlinear ultrasound imaging methods highlight different damage features: the linear method detects large stiffness changes, while the nonlinear technique identifies small impedance mismatches, such as microcracks or closed delaminations. Typically, nonlinear ultrasound techniques detect damage/defects in materials by measuring higher order harmonics. These harmonics can be difficult to measure due to low magnitude and signal to noise ratios (SNR): hence large excitation amplitudes are needed, which can further complicate the reliability of these methods as equipment nonlinearities can be generated. To overcome these issues, exciting at specific frequencies, known as local defect resonances (LDR), produce a much larger displacements at the damaged regions. However, estimation of LDR is time-consuming, complex and not an easily automated process.
A coupled baseline-free linear and nonlinear ultrasonic imaging approach is proposed, using a Constructive Nonlinear Array Sweep excitation and an image subtraction method for identifying damage in layered materials. The signal sweep method uses a narrow band frequency excitation to increase the probability of detection of a LDR frequency. The novel imaging approach was employed using laser vibrometry measurements in various complex composite structures to assess barely visible impact damage, critical for the aircraft industry. The results showed better estimation of impact damage when compared to classical linear or nonlinear ultrasonic methods leading to improved reliability of aircraft inspections.