Failure Code

What is a failure code?

The most simple answer is that they are a marker in a CMMS (usually alphanumeric, though it can be a larger description of a problem) that indicates why an asset failed. Failure codes can be applied to work orders as a way of showing that a specific failure occurred. When a facility’s failure codes successfully describe the range of potential problems for an asset, the maintenance team can easily track repeated machine issues and gather valuable data for improving asset health.


They help maintenance teams improve the use of their time and the organization’s efficiency as a whole because it becomes much easier to identify problematic trends. Most CMMS software allows the user to sort work orders by failure code (alongside other common sorting methods like time, date, and asset type) to identify where problems most frequently occur.

For example, let’s say that a facility consistently sees the failure code for “defective part.” The organization wants to know where these defective parts are coming in, so they run a report in their CMMS for that failure code and look at the asset type. From here, they can identify exactly which assets received defective parts the most and determine a plan of action from there (ie. figuring out which part is correct or purchasing from a new part manufacturer).

These codes are invaluable for any facilities looking to implement some sort of continuous improvement program because of the ability to track failure trends over time and accurately identify issues. However, it’s important to make sure that failure codes cater to the people who use them the most. When these codes are too complex for the average user, the data gathered may be unusable because it will often be wrong. On the other hand, if a facility’s average failure code user is an engineer or other person with advanced technical knowledge, complex failure codes can be beneficial to gather more accurate, informative data.

For this reason, many CMMS software offer a simpler, symptom-based code for the common user (these have a variety of names, but “problem code” or “reason code” see frequent use). While the codes will still be complex in this scenario, the “problem code” will look like a description of the problem (ie. “lubrication level low” or “belt run error”).

All types

There are two widely-used types of failure codes: asset-based and inspection-based failure codes.


In an asset-based system, facilities define asset codes on a per-asset basis, and any work orders entered for that asset will use that asset’s unique failure codes. An asset-based strategy allows deep customization on the asset level - this eases the job of the maintenance technician, who can simply view previous solutions and perform maintenance as necessary.

In regard to difficulty of setup, asset-based failure codes can be a headache to input initially. However, once they are set up, no additional work needs to be done on the part of the user, as the asset’s failure codes should ideally comprise the entirety of the asset’s potential issues (no customization needed). The user can simply input a failure code and their job is complete.


On the other hand, inspection-based failure codes require a comprehensive list of every possible failure mode in a facility. While an asset-based system takes much of the descriptive responsibility away from the end user, an inspection-based system requires users to input detailed, thorough data on work orders in order to successfully diagnose and fix issues.

Inspection-based failure codes are much easier to input and maintain than asset-based codes - the tradeoff is the required input data. If users don’t write in-depth reports on these codes, it can be impossible to figure out solutions to problems because the maintenance team only has a general symptom. As such, it’s vital to train users on what they should be looking for when submitting a work order and how to properly enter that data.


In concept, these codes can apply to any single issue in a facility. In practice, some general categories emerge as the most frequently-used codes archetypes:

  • Maintenance Codes: Maintenance codes describe any issue resulting from poor maintenance practices like over-lubrication, lack of attention, or improperly performed procedures.
  • User Errors: Refers to things like operator errors or negative things that people have done like vandalizing equipment or purposely sabotaging parts.
  • Calibration Problems: Used for improper/out-of-spec calibration like equipment misalignments or unacceptable vibration measurements.
  • Asset Defects: Can be used to denote specific problems with pieces of equipment within an asset like bearings, gearboxes, or motors.


Ultimately, a facility needs to determine which types of failure codes are most useful for their assets. Overall, though, they are a great asset for any organization interested in tracking recurring issues, creating in-depth work orders, and improving its maintenance efforts.