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Tap Test: Evolution of an Old Technique
by David K. Hsu, Daniel J. Barnard and Dennis P. Roach
From Materials Evaluation, Vol. 67, No. 7, pp: 785-791. Copyright © 2009 The American Society for Nondestructive Testing, Inc.
This special issue on NDT of adhesive bonds contains papers that discuss a number of issues and approaches for assessing bonded joints. Fundamental to our experience with bonds is the tap test that so many use in their daily lives. In this “Back to Basics,” the authors review for us the physics of how the tap test works, how technology can improve its capabilities for NDT and how it measures up against other techniques. — Guest Technical Editor Richard H. Bossi
n the nondestructive testing of adhesively bonded structures such as honeycomb panels, the oldest technique — still widely used — is the simple tap test. The tap test is a local technique (as opposed to a global resonance technique like the ring test of railroad wheels), in which the surface contact stiffness is probed by tapping. Tapping a location without damage produces a crisp, solid sound, whereas tapping a damaged region produces a dull sound. The subtle variations in audible response from the structure are detected by the inspector and used to infer the presence of discontinuities. The hearing based and manually operated tap test, although inexpensive to conduct, is hampered by operator-dependent variability and by the presence of background noise in the work environment. Over the years, research on the mechanical response of tap testing has led to the evolution of the technique from an operator-dependent qualitative test to an instrumented
J U LY 2 0 0 9 • M AT E R I A L S E VA L U AT I O N
porating an accelerometer or force sensor into the tapping mass. Hsu et al. The tapping mass is a 10 g (0. Accelerometer output displayed with horizontal axis of 100 s/div and vertical axis of 0. The vertical axis of the figures is the voltage output (acceleration or force) and the width of the curves near the base is the contact time. (b) in a damaged region.ME BACK TO BASICS w x tap test the physical response to a tap involves force data and sound data technique with imaging capability (Figure 1). Force-time history for increasingly great tapping force on a composite honeycomb panel: (a) in a good region. Evolution of the tap test technique. The contact time can be measured by incor- Hearing based “coin tap” Sensory judgment (a) Instrumented tap test Electronic signal. of the order of 14 g (0. 2000).. most of this instrumentation focuses on the force response (Adams et al.5 oz). This article briefly describes the progress and the state of the art of tap testing for adhesively bonded composite structures.. but it is relatively insensitive to the velocity or the force of the tap.5 V/div.35 oz). Mitsuhashi et al. 1991. 1996). 10 mV/g (283 mV/oz) accelerometer fitted with a hemispherical tip.. The contact time of a tap depends on the local contact stiffness of the surface and the mass of the tapper. 1996. 2000). Figure 2.. The contact time at a location with internal damage is often much longer than that at an undamaged region. Although the acoustic spectrum has been used in some instrumented tap testing systems (Pfund. 786 M AT E R I A L S E VA L U AT I O N • J U LY 2 0 0 9 . The physical response to a tap involves force data and sound data (Wu and Siegel. Figure 2 shows the force-time history of increasingly hard taps in a good region and in a damaged region on a composite honeycomb sandwich panel. contact time Mechanized tapping unit Solenoid or magnet driven (b) Tap test with imaging Merging contact time and position Figure 1. The range of contact time obtained with a small mass. Georgeson et al. 1986. on composite honeycomb sandwiches with glass or carbon The Basics of Tap Testing The physical quantity most central to the tap testing of structures is the contact time or impact duration between the tapping mass and the part surface.
The value of the contact time can be used directly in the differentiation of damaged and undamaged regions based on the established contact time of a good region for the tapper mass used. can be obtained from a tap test using any impactor of a known mass without the need for reference standards. “crispy” sound. there have been at least four systems developed over the last two decades. and used in the detection of discontinuities.2) of the ball’s velocity and hence not very sensitive to the impact velocity. and stopped when the voltage falls below the threshold. the stiffness deduced from the contact time. However. developed by Cawley and Adams (1985) and at one time commercialized. is several hundred microseconds. a good structure with a higher stiffness k will produce a shorter contact time and a higherpitched. the force-time curve is taken to be one half cycle of the mass-spring oscillation. “dull” sound. This independence of the tapping force is analogous to the constant period of a swing when pushed with different force.0. the most beneficial tap test instrumentation focuses on the electronic acquisition of the contact time. For example. a counter may be started when the output voltage exceeds a certain threshold. uses a force transducer in a solenoid-driven impactor. damage and property degradation. J U LY 2 0 0 9 • M AT E R I A L S E VA L U AT I O N 787 . the local contact stiffness k can be deduced from the contact time measured by an instrumented tap testing device. When combined with a motorized scanner. the contact time may be measured with a simple circuit without the need of acquiring a digitized force-time curve. where a tapper mass m is bounced off the surface represented by a spring constant k. The comparison of the stiffness deduced from tap testing and measured by static loading is shown in Figure 3. has also been used. using Fourier spectral analysis for example. A mechanized tap test device. The contact time is therefore = (m/k)1/2. the device was shown to produce good tap 6 Stiffness k from Static Load Test (MN/m) 5 k static = 1. The sensitivity of the tap test on structures with thicker facesheets (greater than 9 plies) is too low to be useful even with instrumented units. In this model. On this basis. The contact time of a handheld tapping mass has proven to be surprisingly consistent among different operators despite the differences in tapping force. Further processing of the data. For a given m. The results in Figure 2 show that the contact time is approximately constant for different tapping forces in both good and damaged regions. Alternatively. may be used as the differentiating parameter. ktap . Laboratory tests of a small group showed approximate variations of less than 5%.92 4 3 2 1 0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Instrumented Tap Test The force data and the sound data of the tap test may be acquired with electronic circuits so as to eliminate the dependence on the operator’s sensory response. A comparison of the surface stiffness deduced from tap testing and measured in a static load test. strike angle and grasping force.03. The significance of this relationship is that a meaningful engineering quantity of the structure. the local stiffness. The measurements were made on a number of honeycomb sandwich panels with carbon fiber and glass fiber reinforced polymer facesheets of various thickness. By incorporating an accelerometer into the tapping device.facesheets of up to 7 or 8 plies. The system makes use of the Fourier transform of the force-time history for differentiating between good and bad regions of a structure. a tapper mass independent quantity. Conversely. The stiffness deduced from the tap test has been compared with the stiffness at the same location measured in static load tests. In the progress toward instrumented tap testing.13 R 2 = 0. It is also consistent with the prediction of Hertzian contact theory that the contact time between a ball and a flat object is inversely proportional to a small power (approximately 0. velocity. The good agreement shows that an instrumented tap test can produce a quantity indicative of the damage condition of the structure. Certain features of the digital data may be extracted Stiffness k from Tap Test (MN/m) Figure 3. a damaged region with a lower stiffness will lead to a longer contact time and hence a lower-pitched. A commonly cited model for the tap test is the simple spring model.
a computer-aided tap tester developed by Hsu et al. (1991) employs a solenoid-driven hammer that contains an accelerometer for measuring the time during which the hammer is in contact with the surface. developed by Mitsuhashi et al. These mechanized tappers have substantially alleviated the operator fatigue problem often associated with the tap test. A handoperated digital hammer (referred to here as Instrumented Tapper II) was developed by Georgeson et al. The contact time at a region of unknown condition is referenced to that of a known good region. Finally.ME BACK TO BASICS w x tap test (a) test images of honeycomb sandwich structures. A handheld. Aircraft maintenance manuals often call for this mode of testing. Figure 4 shows three of the four systems described above. but the impactor is a hand-wielded plastic hammer containing an acceleration sensor. the task of generating a tap test scan image involves merging two streams of data: the tap test data (that is. (c) Hsu et al. (b) Tap Test Imaging (c) Figure 4. contact time) and the probe position data. Instrumented tap test devices developed by: (a) Mitsuhashi et al. (2001) uses a piezoelectric accelerometer fitted with a hemispherical tip as a handheld impactor and also in a semi-automated magnetic tapper. (b) Georgeson et al. An attachment to Instrumented Tapper I displays the numerical value of the contact time in microseconds. full coverage of the testing area requires tapping in a grid pattern with a “pixel” size appropriate for the discontinuity size of interest... Instrumented Tapper II also displays the value of the contact time. The system developed by Hsu et al. but is indispensible in a system that generates tap test images. use solenoid-driven impactors. (2001) uses a magnet-operated cart that impacts the surface with the accelerometer at a preset “pitch” as the cart is pushed over the surface. battery-driven tap tester (hereinafter referred to as Instrumented Tapper I). However. (1996. Two of the systems described above (the mechanized tapper developed by Cawley and Adams  and Instrumented Tapper I). The instrument uses the contact time data and converts it into the local stiffness based on the mass of the impactor. a raster scan using a handheld impactor can be tedious and impractical for larger areas. a mechanized tapper is therefore desirable. Mechanized Tap Test Since the tap test is a local testing technique. 2004) and became commercially available. A mechanized device not only ensures uniformity of the tapping force and angle of strike. With an instrumented tap device. The instrument developed by Cawley and Adams (1985) employs a 788 M AT E R I A L S E VA L U AT I O N • J U LY 2 0 0 9 .
the surface is tapped through the overlay grid. in a predetermined raster fashion. were assembled afterwards. The number of pixels in the height and width directions of the scan are entered into the data acquisition and plotting software before the scan. The image shows the inner and outer surfaces of a composite rudder that was recovered from an aircraft accident that involved both the vertical stabilizer and rudder components. at the two worst discontinuities. Parts of the rudder were broken apart. made with the semiautomatic magnetic cart of the system developed by Hsu et al. To generate a scan image. The figure is an image of the local stiffness k converted from the measured contact time using the impactor mass.) composite honeycomb sandwich containing engineered discontinuities. The system developed by Hsu et al. Tap Test Performance The majority of composite honeycomb structural testing is performed visually and supplemented by tap test techniques. (c) the right side outer and inner skins. The assembled image in Figure 6 represented more than 60 scans of 600 by 900 mm (2 by 3 ft) each and covered a total scanned area of approximately 37 m2 (400 ft2). (2001) over intact regions. Tap test image of a composite rudder recovered from an aircraft accident. Figure 5. Figure 5 shows that the background stiffness of the panel is approximately 1. Tap test image of surface contact stiffness of a 460 460 mm (18 18 in. J U LY 2 0 0 9 • M AT E R I A L S E VA L U AT I O N 789 . (b) the main spar. Figure 6. The size. The overall image revealed considerable information about the damage distribution and fracture orientation on the rudder. either manually or with the magnetic cart. so the tap test scans. core splices and repair patches. The FAA Airworthiness Assurance Center at Sandia National Labs completed a probability of detection (POD) experiment to assess the performance of both conventional and advanced NDT techniques (Roach and Rackow. An example of intensive application of tap test imaging in the field is shown in Figure 6. The main advantage of an image display of the tap test results is that the visual and analytical power of the operator is immediately put to use.5 MN/m (34 261 lbf/ft). Figure 5 shows a tap test image of a carbonfiber reinforced polymer honeycomb sandwich panel containing six engineered discontinuities that simulate disbonds. the distinction between discontinuities and normal substructures is much easier to make using an image that displays both the discontinuities and the normal substructures such as ply overlaps. shape and severity of the discontinuities can be easily assessed. (2001) uses a thin plastic overlay with a printed grid in an “assumed encoding” scheme.motorized scanner for generating the tap test scan image. the stiffness has decreased to about 0.4 MN/m (95 900 lbf/ft). In addition. showing damage to: (a) the left side outer and inner skins.
Improvements attainable through the application of advanced NDT techniques to those same results are shown in Figure 8. The mechanized impactors have ensured uniformity of the tapping and increased the testing throughput while improving discontinuity detection performance.. The tap test will eventually evolve into automated systems capable of imaging and quantitative analysis. more than 70 inspectors of different ages and experience levels performed the blind tests to produce statistically valid POD curves that are representative of the industry as a whole. Also plotted are the results from handheld low-frequency bond testing and mechanical impedance analysis (MIA) testing. third-party maintenance depots. results from the system developed by Hsu et al. To acquire the discontinuity detection data. In all. Industrywide performance curves were produced to establish: G how well current testing techniques are able to reliably find discontinuities in composite honeycomb structures G the degree of improvements possible through the integration of more advanced NDT techniques and procedures.. However. In this set of POD curves. Conclusion The tap test testing technique has evolved from a hearing based manual test into instrumented systems in which the electronic circuits have removed the dependence on the human ear. w x Figure 8. A series of composite honeycomb specimens with statistically relevant discontinuity profiles were tested using both manual tap test equipment and new testing techniques that have recently been introduced to automate and improve composite NDT.ME BACK TO BASICS w x tap test The tap test will eventually evolve into automated systems capable of imaging and quantitative analysis. Mitsuhaski et al. Figure 7 shows a series of POD plots that compare the discontinuity detection performance for various manually deployed and automated tap test devices when testing a honeycomb structure with 6-ply fiberglass skin. 790 M AT E R I A L S E VA L U AT I O N • J U LY 2 0 0 9 . 2001. The NDT techniques that were evaluated ranged from manually applied tap testing to automated. Figure 7. 2003). Individual POD curve comparisons for advanced NDT techniques on a honeycomb panel with 6-ply fiberglass facesheet. Cumulative POD curve comparisons of conventional NDT devices on a honeycomb panel with 6-ply fiberglass facesheet. the panels were shipped to airlines. aircraft manufacturers and NDT developer labs around the world. 1991) to C-scan technology for improved discontinuity identification. sensor based forms of tap testing (Hsu et al. (2001) are compared with resonance and MIA scan techniques. laminography. thermography and ultrasonic array testing. the enhanced capabilities should not be achieved at the expense of the original advantages of simplicity and ease of field use.
AUTHORS David K.edu. Georgeson. Roach: Sandia National Laboratories. Adams. G.D. Siegel. Chimenti.” Proceedings of SPIE. Peters and N.J.A. D.652. Lea and J. Chimenti.” Review of Progress in Quantitative Nondestructive Evaluation. Kollgaard. C.edu.R.. D. Ames. Bopp. Barnard. pp.E. Box 5800. 493–497. eds. Wu.” US Patent No. (505) 844-6078.J. Ames. F.” US Patent No..J. Hsu: Center for Nondestructive Evaluation. 1991. 1915 Scholl Road. Thompson and D. “Nondestructive Inspection of Composite Structures by Low Velocity Impact.O. Plenum Press. and M. e-mail dproach@sandia.M. New York. 2001. 1857–1864. Albuquerque. Nishikawa.E.686. 1985. Georgeson. Iowa State University.. IA 50011. D. Vol... D. “Nondestructive Inspection and the Display of Inspection Results.791. “Improving In-Service Inspection of Composite Structures: It’s a Game of CATT and MAUS. 1996. G. 4. NM 87185. S. 19B. IA 50011. AIP. Peters and V. Barnard: Center for Nondestructive Evaluation. P. 1253–1258. Thompson and D. Allen and P.639.A. Hansen.R. H.” IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement. Roach. (515) 294-2501. J. Cawley.P.. Dennis P.D.921. B.gov. 1915 Scholl Road. 328–338.320. J. “Testing of Structures by Impact.” US Patent No.O.” Review of Progress in Quantitative Nondestructive Evaluation. 49.J. 2000. 2000. 5. September 2003.E.” FAA/NASA/DOD Conference on Aging Aircraft. “Physical Basis of Tap Test as a Quantitative Imaging Tool for Composite Structures on Aircraft. Rackow. Hsu. Oka and H. pp. S. Mitsuhashi.542. e-mail dbarnard@iastate. eds. D. 6. “Method and Apparatus for Impact-Type Inspection of Structures.W. 2004. 5.M. Dayal. Vol. K. 6. Barnard.K. REFERENCES Adams. and K. R. 1996. “Portable Test Hammer Apparatus. “Electronic Tap Hammer for Composite Damage Assessment.048.748. (515) 294-2501. Vol. pp.E. Pfund. 1986. Jyomuta. pp.327.. 2945. e-mail dkhsu@iastate.. J. J U LY 2 0 0 9 • M AT E R I A L S E VA L U AT I O N 791 .” US Patent No. “Damage Detection Device and Method.” US Patent No.. Lea and J. D. Daniel J. Cawley.K. Vol. A. New York. and R. D. 5B. Hudelson. J. Hansen. “Correlation of Accelerometer and Microphone Data in the Coin-Tap Test. Hsu. Melville. Iowa State University.
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