One of the key gripes with “virtual auditing” is the tendency of ISO 9001 or AS9100 auditors to demand the client carry around a cell phone, taking blurry, wobbly live video as the auditor pretends this mimics an actual on-site audit. It’s often worthless, and just burns up audit time resulting in no meaningful findings.

While live video has its place, Oxebridge uses a unique method of “photomapping” that already has proven to be better than blurry hand-cam feeds, and has generated real findings.

Using this method, which is also featured in the latest revision of our Q017 standard on Remote Auditing Methods, the auditor obtains a floor plan of the facility before the audit. With that, the auditor marks the map with areas they want photos taken, and which direction they want the camera to point. The end result looks like this:

The example above was developed during a recent audit of a client in Canada, so I have intentionally blurred the underlying plant layout; the original, of course, was clear.

Each circle represents a single photo I requested be shot, with the triangles indicating the camera’s position and angle. A set of three of these was made to provide full floor coverage. To ensure the information in the photos would be current, this was done 48 hours before the actual audit.

The client then provided the photos, with each one numbered according to the photomap. These were provided 24 hours before the audit, and then each photo was marked up with comments or follow up questions. Some photos prompted no questions, while others looked like this (again, the image is blurred to protect the client’s information):

In some cases, the questions were merely clarified during the actual audit, during an audio-only conference call. In other cases, I asked for follow-up information or closer photos, to mimic what I would do during a real on-site audit.

Using the example above, for “Question 1” I asked the client to provide me information on the CNC program that was loaded, its ability to identify what job was running, and other details. For “Question 2,” I asked follow-up questions on product identification and the how it tied to the job running on that machine. For “Question 3,” I asked about the calibration of a surface plate seen in the shop. For “Question # 4,” I asked, simply, “what’s in the box?

In the end, we never relied on blurry live feed video, and instead I carefully analyzed a set of 22 photos.

I’ll cut to the question that some seasoned auditors would ask: “using this method, can’t the client skew the audit results by ensuring they don’t take photos of problematic areas?” The answer is “not really.”

First, by developing the photomap based on the floor plan, you can quickly ascertain if any photos are missing, and that the client is hiding something. If the floor plan shows a receiving door, and you don’t see one, you have to find out if the photo really represents the photo position you requested. Furthermore, taking photos from different angles will ensure the entire department is covered; there’s little room to hide things.

Next, the same exact potential for client shenanigans exists whether the audit is done virtually or physically. We all know that clients perform “cleanups” the day before Audit Day, and yes, clients could also clean the shop before they took photos. There is no difference at all. If a client wants to hide nonconformities, they can do it. I’ve found that being on-site has very few advantages to doing a carefully planned, thorough remote audit. If anything, remote audits reduce the amount of time spent in idle conversation, or hanging around the coffee pot.

Oxebridge has used this photomap method for ten contract audits to date. In three cases, the clients received their AS9100 certifications after our internal audits were done (our audits are typically one of the last steps during implementation), and no findings were written against the photomap method. The other seven clients have yet to undergo any third-party audit, but we’re confident.

Best yet: the clients love it. No one likes running around the shop with a cell phone, worrying about data caps and wi-fi signal strength. Worse, the workers are instantly put off when someone shoves a call phone in their face. The photomap method avoids all of these problems.

Extra points: we don’t rely on Zoom, meaning no one can hack your live feed and see your shop floor. We share photos through secure data transfer portals like RegDOX or sharing by Signal, with full end-to-end encryption.

I’m of a mind to never do physical audits ever again, given the fact that remote auditing can be done so effectively, and at a fraction of the cost (no expenses!)

What do you think? Leave your comments in The O-Forum.

To get a quote for remote QMS auditing, or full ISO 9001 or AS9100 implementation, click here. To learn more about Oxebridge’s Remote Service Offerings, click here.

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