This paper presents the application of a novel vibration based technique for detecting fatigue cracks in structures. The method utilizes the empirical mode decomposition method (EMD) to establish an effective energy-based damage index. To investigate the feasibility of the method, fatigue cracks of different sizes were introduced in an aluminum beam subjected to a cyclic load under three point bending configuration. The vibration signals corresponding to the healthy and the damaged states of the beam were acquired via piezoceramic sensors. The signals were then processed by the proposed methodology to obtain the damage indices. In addition, for the sake of comparison, the natural frequencies of the healthy and damaged states of the beam were obtained through the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT). The results of this study concluded in two major observations. Firstly, the method was highly successful in not only predicting the presence of the fatigue crack, but also in quantifying its progression. Secondly, the proposed energy-based damage index was proved to be superior over the frequency-based method in terms of sensitivity to the damage detection and quantification. Moreover, this technique could be regarded as an efficient non-destructive tool, since it is simple, cost effective, and does not rely on analytical modelling of the structure.© (2011) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.