“What’s in a name?” This question was famously asked by Juliet in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, and suggests that names have little meaning. However, anyone that manages maintenance assets can tell you that naming is everything (at least, that’s what they should tell you). Unfortunately, not much attention is given to the process of naming assets. Can you imagine identifying tens to thousands of assets based solely on a description? Not only would it be exhausting and confusing, it would be highly inefficient. In this article, we provide an overview of how to develop your own asset naming convention.

What is an Asset Naming Convention?

magnifying glass-gears-reflection-yellow background-asset naming conventions

An asset naming convention defines how your assets will be referenced in the CMMS software.

In relation to implementing computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software, an asset naming convention defines how your assets will be referenced in the system. As mentioned in our article, What is Asset Management?, identification plays an important role in asset management. Asset naming conventions are developed to remove any vagueness and ambiguity when communicating about maintenance assets. By looking at the name alone, stakeholders should be able to tell what an asset is and where it belongs. While you could name assets willy-nilly, if you want to meet the goals of efficient communication and analysis, asset names must be standardized. To demonstrate, let’s look at a naming convention for corporate email addresses:

A very common way to assign email addresses to employees is to use some combination of their first and last name. For example, John Doe’s email address might be jdoe@example.com, john.doe@example.com, or something similar. The next email assigned would follow the same structure – James Smith’s email would start with jsmith or james.smith. The pattern then continues for each employee – using the first convention, Derek Johnson’s email address starts with djohnson, Alice Matthews’ starts with amatthews, Mike Williams’ mwilliams, and so on.

Based on this naming convention, it is very easy for an employee to determine the email address for Mark Jacobs without knowing it beforehand. Also, there is no confusion as to whom the address belongs. Now, imagine how difficult it would be if employee email addresses did not follow such a structure – it would be very easy to make mistakes and become confused. The same concept applies to the naming of industrial assets.

Why are Asset Naming Conventions Important?

From the corporate email address example, hopefully you’ve identified why standardized asset naming is important. If not, here are a few reasons:

  • Quicker Onboarding of New Employees: You cannot assume that new employees have experience with the types of assets used in your organization. While over time technicians will be able to easily identify assets, it will be difficult for someone new to know the differences between them.
  • Brevity: Unlike manual maintenance management systems that allow you to be more verbose and wordy, most software programs limit the amount of characters that can be used. CMMS software can be used more effectively if descriptions are short and to the point.
  • Consistent Data Entry: A clear naming convention makes it easy for users to name new assets during data entry.
  • Efficient Use of CMMS: A standardized asset naming convention allows CMMS users to quickly locate existing assets in the system. Additionally, finding and sorting assets becomes easier because data is grouped together in a more logical manner.

Further Reading: How FTMaintenance Helps Maintenance Technicians

How to Create an Asset Naming Convention

The following information can assist you in developing your own asset naming convention for your organization. Keep in mind that there are alternative methods for asset naming, and each has their pros and cons.

Asset Naming Convention Components

Asset naming conventions often consist of two components: 1) a unique asset number and 2) a descriptive name. The National Stock Number (NSN), developed by the US Department of Defense, is viewed as the gold standard in asset naming. Used in military and government agencies, the NSN is used to identify and manage a large number of inventory assets. Many organizations look to the NSN system for guidance when developing their own asset naming conventions.

Organizations that create their own asset naming convention should decide what components work best for their stakeholders. For example, organizations that do fleet maintenance may embed manufacturer – but not location information – into the asset name, as vehicles are constantly on the move. Facilities management organizations may use location information, such as an address, as a part of the asset name. Below is a list of potential components that you may embed in your asset number:

  • Asset Type: Motor, HVAC unit, press, boiler, etc.
  • Characteristic: Make, manufacturer, model, revision, color, size, etc.
  • Location: Country, state, site, address, building, floor, room, factory line number, etc.
  • Numbers: Manufacturer serial number, VIN number, equipment code, etc.

As for the descriptive asset name, that part is up to you. That said, you should strive to only include enough information as necessary. Following the format of the NSN, an asset description may consist of the asset type, a description of the sub-type of that asset, and a defining characteristic. For example, a light bulb may be described as “Lamp, Fluorescent, 40 Watt.”

Asset Naming Convention Examples

The following are two examples intended to help you visualize how an asset naming convention might be structured.

Scenario 1

An organization operates out of a single building with a moderate number of assets. A possible naming convention may look something like AAA-###, where:

  • AAA represents a three-character code identifying the type of asset (e.g. AHU = “Air Handling Unit”, Chiller = “CHL”, CNC lathe = “CNC”, etc.)
  • ### represents the uniquely identifier, such as a number (e.g., 001, 002, 100, etc.)

Example: CNC-001. This example refers to one of the CNC lathes located at the facility. The description might be “CNC, 2-Axis, 4500 RPM”.

Scenario 2

An organization has plants in multiple locations across the United States. Each plant has multiple buildings that house several assets of the same type, such as air handling units. The asset naming convention for this organization may be of a form AA-BB-CCC-###, where:

  • AA represents the state postal code abbreviation (e.g., AZ, CA, WI, etc.)
  • BB represents the building number (e.g., B1, B2, B3, etc.)
  • CCC represents a three-character code identifying the type of asset (e.g. AHU = “Air Handling Unit”, Chiller = “CHL”, CNC lathe = “CNC”, etc.)
  • ### represents the uniquely identifier, such as a number (e.g., 001, 002, 100, etc.)

Example: WI-B2-AHU-003. This example refers to one of the air handling units in building 2 at a Wisconsin-based facility. The description might be “Chiller, Reciprocating, 150 TR”.

Of course, the examples in this article represent naming conventions with varying degrees of depth and do not represent all possible naming structures. It is up to your organization to determine the format, structure, and depth of your naming convention.

Asset Naming Best Practices

Asset naming conventions do not need to be complex in order to be effective. The goal of developing a standardized naming system is for users of your CMMS and other employees to be able to recognize an asset, its location, or its purpose at-a-glance. Keep the following best practices in mind when crafting your asset naming convention:

  • Be Logical: Maintenance technicians should be able to draw meaning from asset names. Do not label boilers as “XYZ.” Instead, use a more logical code such as “BOIL” or “BLR”.
  • Be Consistent: Terminology, abbreviations, and numbering schemes should not vary. For example, all chillers could be abbreviated as “CHLR”. All numbering should use the same number of digits. For example, the first record created under a number scheme that uses three digits will be “001” instead of “1” or “01”.
  • Be Unique: Each asset name should be unique to prevent confusion.
  • Avoid Duplicate Data: Asset names do not need to include information that is defined elsewhere (although, they can). Search capabilities in a CMMS make this information easy to find.
  • Leave Room for Growth: Naming conventions should leave room to easily add new asset records – which may be subsets of existing records. For example, separate asset numbers by 100, 500, or 1,000 for major subgroups.
  • Prioritize the Use of Letters: Numbers, when used alone, hold little meaning. Letters can be much more informative and make asset names easier for employees to interpret.
  • Use a “Drill Down” Approach: Employ a hierarchical structure that allows users to “drill down” to relevant, granular data.

Set Yourself Up for Success with FasTrak Consulting Services

Creating an asset naming convention can be a challenge for first-time CMMS users. At FasTrak, we offer CMMS consulting services that will help you and your team maximize your use of FTMaintenance. An FTMaintenance consultant will work with you to understand your current asset environment and develop an effective asset naming convention for your organization. Contact us today to learn more about FasTrak’s FTMaintenance consulting services.