I need some clarification about the difference between acoustic emissions and ultrasonic waves. I have the idea that both are high-frequency signals and informative frequency bands more or less overlap. Is there any difference between the waveform or in other characteristics that may the propagation speed through a medium. Moreover, will the velocity of both the signals through a medium (carbon steel) will be the same or will there be any difference.


1 Answer 1


The propagation of a mechanical wave within a medium depends on the characteristics of that medium (e.g. density).

An easy way to experience this is to knock a piece of material with a sharp hit and listen to it trying to dissipate the energy you gave it. Consider for example a bell. When you hit it, it goes bonnnnnnnnnnng at some tone. If you were to weld a few rings around the bell and try to hit it again, it would go bonng. Different density / stifness of the material, different sound.

Acoustic emissions are akin to the sound of the bell and the cause of the "ringing" are the internal cracks. Consider for example the sound of ice cracking (similar sounds are produced even as ice cracks on its own, without forcing it externally) or even closer to your question, glass cracking under thermal shock.

Within a block of ice, the acoustic emissions are low enough in frequency that can be heard. But, if that was a piece of kevlar breaking, the disturbance would propagate with different characteristics through the material. You can see that we are already at hundreds of kHz in this case and we would be needing special equipment to sense the material vibrating.

Hope this helps.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detailed explanation. In my case, I have a carbon steel vessel. I recorded AE signals from the vessel having a crack. I calculated the velocity of the signals through simple distance, time formulation. The resulting velocity of the AE signals in my case is 3000m/sec. Whereas, in the data sheets if we check the ultrasonic velocity of the carbon steel is 6000 m/sec. Is this difference justifiable as I am performing acoustic emission testing (Acoustic sensors) not the ultrasonic testing (material is tested using ultrasonic waves and the apparatus used is different)? $\endgroup$
    – shobi
    Dec 20, 2018 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @shobi Glad to hear you found this useful. From the clarification you provide here, you are after something slightly different. The velocity differences you provide are enormous. Is the crack partial or through the vessel? The crack would change the direct path between sensors and that is how the velocity seems to change. Here, it seems that the crack has doubled the distance between the projector and the sensor (?) If possible, look for reflections, after the main hit. $\endgroup$
    – A_A
    Dec 20, 2018 at 13:53

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