Acoustic Emission Monitoring in Prestressed Concrete: A Comparative Study of Signal Attenuation from Wire Breaks and Rebound Hammer Impulses

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Acoustic emission monitoring (AEM) has emerged as an effective technique for detecting wire breaks resulting from, e.g., stress corrosion cracking, and its application on prestressed concrete bridges is increasing. The success of this monitoring measure depends crucially on a carefully designed sensor layout. For this, the attenuation of elastic waves within the structure’s material is ideally determined in situ through object-related measurements (ORMs) with a reproducible signal source, typically a rebound hammer. This assumes that the attenuation coefficients derived from rebound hammer tests are comparable to those from wire breaks, thus allowing their results to be directly applied to wire break detection without further adjustments. This study challenges this assumption by analysing attenuation behaviour through an extensive dataset. Employing time-domain and frequency analysis, the research generates attenuation profiles from laboratory experiments and in situ measurements across various girders and bridge structures, extracting the slope and residual standard deviation (RSD). While generally validating this approach, the findings highlight differences in attenuation behaviour from among wire break signals and rebound hammer impulses, whereby the latter potentially underestimates the relevant attenuation of wire breaks by approximately 20%. Consequently, a transfer factor is proposed to adjust ORM results obtained with the rebound hammer for wire break scenarios. It consists of a scaling factor of 1.2 to modify the average attenuation coefficient and a constant term of ±1.0 dB/m to cover a 95% confidence interval, and thus, account for sample scattering. Moreover, the anisotropic attenuation behaviour across different structures was studied, showing that transverse attenuation consistently exceeds the longitudinal, significantly influenced by structural features such as voids. In prefabricated concrete bridges with in situ-cast concrete slabs, transverse signal transmission remains unhindered across multiple elements. Finally, the results provide a valuable reference for the design of sensor layouts in bridge monitoring, particularly benefiting scenarios where direct in situ experiences are lacking.


Original languageEnglish
Article number3045
JournalApplied Sciences (Switzerland)
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

External IDs

ORCID /0000-0001-8735-1345/work/160479747



  • acoustic emission, attenuation analysis, bridges, non-destructive testing, post-tensioned concrete, structural health monitoring, wire break detection