CMMS Failure Codes

CMMS Failure Codes:

Two Schools of Thought

by Megan Matthews – Project Engineer, CMMS Services

One of the most common questions we get from plants, both new and well-established ones, is how to set up failure codes – or why to set them up, or how to use the information once they are set up. There are many ways to set up, utilize and report on failure codes, but two general schools of thought prevail: Use asset types to classify failures…or use visual inspection to drive the process.

Asset-Based Failure Codes

Using asset-based failure codes is the more common approach. You set these up for each asset and include all potential failures for that asset. The codes transfer with the asset to work orders. You use them to document an existing problem, cause and remedy – or you create new ones for use in resolving the work order. While it’s more difficult to create asset-based codes, it’s easier to enter them into your CMMS, as they require no additional fields or customizing of your application.

Plants typically choose the asset-based approach because it allows technicians to easily review and utilize previously verified remedies. The downside is that reporting on the asset status or failures is notoriously difficult due to the lack of a specific tie between causes and remedies for the asset. In addition, it requires buy-in from staff to maintain and utilize the resource to its full potential.

Technically Speaking_NAES

The MEAG Wansley plant has set up an excellent asset-based failure code map, as illustrated below:

ASSET: Battery

  • Problems:
    • Cable Connections
      • CAUSES:
        • Mechanical – General
          • REMEDIES:
            • Fab/Install Related Causes – General
            • Failure Related to Ops/ Maintenance
            • Miscellaneous
        • Mechanical – Looseness
          • REMEDIES:
            • Installation Error
            • Operated Error
            • Maintenance Error
            • No cause found
            • Fab/Install Related Causes – General
            • Failure Related to Ops/ Maintenance
            • Miscellaneous


Failure Codes

The second type of setup, based on visual inspection, requires creation of a single failure list. It enables every user, regardless of his/her training level, to select an appropriate failure code. Once you’ve identified the code and completed the work order, your lead or supervisor will fill out more specific failure information before closing the work order. This information can include the asset condition after work, the type of work performed, component of the asset that failed (motor, valve, etc.), the cause of the failure and action taken to resolve the issue.

This setup is easier to maintain but requires some customization of your asset-management system before you can fully utilize it. It also enables you to start with a small list and grow it into a more robust system. Plants typically go with an inspection-based system if they want more extensive reporting and global tracking of assets including status, work performed and annual cost.

Inspection-based codes are not very effective for determining alternatives to remedy-specific issues at the plant, although they can be used in conjunction with asset-based codes if desired. There’s less work required to maintain the lists, but the reports are only as good as the data entered in them. It’s important that you require detailed failure data to be entered and that you review it for accuracy to ensure that your reporting is of value.

Here’s an effective inspection-based system set up by Sandy Creek Energy Center:


  • NOISE – abnormal noise / sound / rubbing / hitting
  • CORROSION – corroded / dirty / fouled / stuck
  • DAMAGED – broken / bent / fractured / punctured
  • LEAKING – external leakage / spray / dripping / spilling
  • FUNCTION – operation function bad / poor production rate
  • LOOSE – loose / weak tension
  • POWER_ELEC – power problems / overload / tripping / not starting
  • FLUID_LEVEL – fluid level inadequate
  • OVERHEATING – overheating / smoke smell / sparks / fire
  • VIBRATING – excessive vibration


  1. Impacting production; multiple problems
  2. Performance degrading; frequent stoppages
  3. Acceptable performance but occasional stoppage
  4. Operates near 100%, showing age
  5. Running perfectly, looks new


  • Adjust, tweak, reset operational settings
  • Move / assemble
  • Clean
  • Fabricate new part
  • Inspect


  • Aging
  • Normal wear & tear
  • Power failure
  • Abnormal conditions
  • Human factors
    • Defective material
    • Design flaw
    • Improper PM cycle
    • Procedures incorrect
    • Poor housekeeping

Both asset-based and inspection-based setups offer viable approaches. Choose the one that best suits your process and requirements. Regardless of which one you select – or if you go with a different approach altogether – keep in mind that data entry is the most critical part of the process. If you don’t encourage, maintain and monitor the quality of failure data entered into your CMMS, your reports will be useless.

We’d be happy to help you develop a failure code list, tweak an existing list or answer any CMMS-related question. You can reach us at