Remote audits: better by design - Leon Michelsen from VOLA

Design and manufacturing company VOLA first engaged with remote auditing this year because it was a COVID-friendly solution. It turned out to be a tailor-made solution, too. After three remote audits with Kiwa, VOLA sees this process as an ideal way to certify the minor product variations that are crucial to its business model, as well as being more time efficient and better for the environment. Leon R Michelsen, quality and environmental coordinator at VOLA Denmark, explains what remote auditing is like in practice.

Who is VOLA and what does it do?

“We design and manufacture award-winning Scandinavian products such as taps and bathroom accessories. They’re made in Denmark and sold all around the world. Vola employs around 240 people and generates an annual turnover of approximately €40 million.”

What are your most critical processes that need auditing and how often does it happen?

“Our audits tend not to be very complex and are carried out for quality management, environmental management and occupational health and safety. We have more than 20 years’ experience of auditing and have had ISO9001 certification since 2004. Before that, we had material inspections from different companies, such as Kiwa. We’re audited between seven and 10 times per year, generally with zero to three non-conformities.”

How has auditing changed for you since COVID-19 and what role does remote auditing play in that?

“Before COVID-19, audits were conducted on site, with face-to-face meetings and in-person tours of relevant areas of the business, such as production facilities. Remote audits entered the picture for us when COVID restrictions started to take hold. We’ve had three remote audits so far since the summer. The first was about our ISO system – ISO9001, ISO14001 and ISO45001. We could easily share all our documents and procedures on screen and the auditor interviewed different groups of people. It was like being in the same meeting room. In the next audit, we had interviews for a couple of hours and did a camera tour through one of our factories to show the production and assembly of a product. The third was a video interview with around 12 questions regarding documentation for products and calibration, plus an assembly demo.”

What have been the most significant differences for you between remote auditing and on-site auditing?

“The time factor is a huge difference. The remote audits were very efficient and took much less time than usual. Normally, such audits would take a full working day for me and at least one colleague. Now, I can handle it just by myself.”

In your view, what are the biggest advantages that remote auditing brings to your business?

“That time saving for one. In fact, remote auditing is less demanding on our resources generally – less time, less manpower and less cost. It saves our auditor a lot of travelling time as well. That’s also good for the environment and reduces our CO2 footprint, which is something we’re always keen to do at VOLA. Another advantage is the fast turnaround after the remote audit. We received the reports very quickly – the same day!”

Have you experienced any important downsides?

“Nothing significant. It took a bit of practice for our people to get used to working and presenting in front of the camera. And of course, remote audits can’t replace on-site visits entirely because sometimes you just need hands-on experience.”

How would you compare the standards of quality, environmental and health and safety audits between remote auditing and on-site auditing?

“We got a satisfactory result from the remote audits. The reports contained the normal, sharp level of detail and information that we expect and need.”

Is remote auditing a step in the right direction for your business?

“I believe so. Remote auditing is very welcome and offers useful advantages for us. Especially since we have many products in our catalogue that have not changed much in years. We make around 50 basic product types but 1,000 or so varieties, allowing for shape, colour and material. And we’ve been doing so for many years now. Honestly, I don’t see the point in having someone come over and audit every step of a process when we change just a minor detail of an existing product – with the same design, the same processes and the same materials. Especially since over the last three years, that audit has changed, with more documents about materials and components. I’d say, in such cases, when the auditor knows your organisation and your product, one annual remote audit and one on-site audit every five years would be enough. For minor product variations, remote audits can bring tailor-made solutions.”

Remote audits by Kiwa - Better by design, says Leon Michelsen from VOLA - VOLA headquarters