A high precision ultrasonic technique and a test apparatus are developed for the real time control of the fastener elongation during the tightening process of bolted joints. This is accomplished by monitoring the propagation of longitudinal ultrasonic waves through the fastener material and the reflection of these waves at the end of the fastener. The round trip time of the longitudinal waves is continuously measured and monitored in real time. Using the wave speed in the fastener material, the change in the round trip time determines the fastener elongation, which creates fastener tension and joint clamp load. The wave speed through the bolt material is stress dependent; hence, it continuously changes as the fastener is being elongated during the tightening process. A varying wave speed algorithm is developed and utilized in order to compensate for wave speed variations. Because the torque-tension relationship in threaded fasteners is highly sensitive to friction variations, the scatter in such relationship is often unacceptable, especially in critical applications. By contrast, the automatic control of the fastener elongation during the tightening process would eliminate the dependence on the torque value as a predictor for the bolt tension. Hence, the new ultrasonic technique for the real-control of the fastener tension, by monitoring its elongation, would significantly enhance the reliability of bolted assemblies.

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