Nonlinear ultrasonic non-destructive evaluation (NDE) methods can be used for the identification of defects within adhesive bonds as they rely on the detection of nonlinear elastic features for the evaluation of the bond strength. In this paper the nonlinear content of the structural response of a single lap joint subjected to ultrasonic harmonic excitation is both numerically and experimentally evaluated to identify and characterize the defects within the bonded region. Different metallic samples with the same geometry were experimentally tested in order to characterize the debonding between two plates by using two surface bonded piezoelectric transducers in pitch-catch mode. The dynamic response of the damaged samples acquired by the single receiver sensor showed the presence of higher harmonics (2nd and 3rd) and subharmonics of the fundamental frequencies. These nonlinear elastic phenomena are clearly due to nonlinear effects induced by the poor adhesion between the two plates. A new constitutive model aimed at representing the nonlinear material response generated by the interaction of the ultrasonic waves with the adhesive joint is also presented. Such a model is implemented in an explicit FE software and uses a nonlinear user defined traction-displacement relationship implemented by means of a cohesive material user model interface. The developed model is verified for the different geometrical and material configurations. Good agreement between the experimental and numerical nonlinear response showed that this model can be used as a simple and useful tool for understanding the quality of the adhesive joint.
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