With research in structural health monitoring (SHM) moving towards increasingly complex structures for damage interrogation, the placement of sensors is becoming a key issue in the performance of the damage detection methodologies. For ultrasonic wave based approaches, this is especially important because of the sensitivity of the travelling Lamb waves to material properties, geometry and boundary conditions that may obscure the presence of damage if they are not taken into account during sensor placement. The framework proposed in this paper defines a sensing region for a pair of piezoelectric transducers in a pitch-catch damage detection approach by taking into account the material attenuation and probability of false alarm. Using information about the region interrogated by a sensoractuator pair, a simulated annealing optimization framework was implemented in order to place sensors on complex metallic geometries such that a selected minimum damage type and size could be detected with an acceptable probability of false alarm anywhere on the structure. This approach was demonstrated on a lug joint to detect a crack and on a large Naval SHM test bed and resulted in a placement of sensors that was able to interrogate all parts of the structure using the minimum number of transducers.© (2011) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.