Structural health monitoring consists of using sensors integrated within structures together with algorithms to perform load monitoring, damage detection, damage location, damage size and severity, and prognosis. One possibility is to use strain sensors to infer structural integrity by comparing patterns in the strain field between the pristine and damaged conditions. In previous works, the authors have demonstrated that it is possible to detect small defects based on strain field pattern recognition by using robust machine learning techniques. They have focused on methodologies based on principal component analysis (PCA) and on the development of several unfolding and standardization techniques, which allow dealing with multiple load conditions. However, before a real implementation of this approach in engineering structures, changes in the strain field due to conditions different from damage occurrence need to be isolated. Since load conditions may vary in most engineering structures and promote significant changes in the strain field, it is necessary to implement novel techniques for uncoupling such changes from those produced by damage occurrence. A damage detection methodology based on optimal baseline selection (OBS) by means of clustering techniques is presented. The methodology includes the use of hierarchical nonlinear PCA as a nonlinear modeling technique in conjunction with Q and nonlinear-T 2 damage indices. The methodology is experimentally validated using strain measurements obtained by 32 fiber Bragg grating sensors bonded to an aluminum beam under dynamic bending loads and simultaneously submitted to variations in its pitch angle. The results demonstrated the capability of the methodology for clustering data according to 13 different load conditions (pitch angles), performing the OBS and detecting six different damages induced in a cumulative way. The proposed methodology showed a true positive rate of 100% and a false positive rate of 1.28% for a 99% of confidence.
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