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This paper describes an intelligent optical sensor for real time defect detection in gas metal arc welding processes. The sensor measures the radiations emitted by the plasma surrounding the welding arc, and analyzes the information in real time to determine an index of local quality of the weld. The data processing algorithm encompasses a Kalman filter to reduce the heavy amount of noise affecting the measured signals, and an intelligent fuzzy system to assess the degree of acceptability of the weld. The fuzzy system is also able to detect the risk of specific problems (e.g., anomalies in the current, voltage or speed of the arc, contamination with other materials, holes) and the position of defects along the welding line. In an extensive experimental comparison, the fuzzy system outperforms a former version of the detection algorithm based on a statistical approach.