Older and younger men in hard hats discussing work together, older man pointing to area on a computer screen displaying failure codes.

CMMS failure codes help identify why assets have failed.

What are Failure Codes?

A failure code is an alphanumeric marker used in computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software to categorize the reason why an asset has failed. Failure codes quickly communicate the nature of a problem on maintenance work orders, track why failures occur, and provide common data for reporting and analysis.

In CMMS software, failure codes typically appear as short codes that are a logical abbreviation of the failure being described. For example, the code for an air leak might be ARLK; a calibration problem could be codified as CALB; WIRE could denote a wiring problem, and so on.

Failure codes are commonly used in combination with cause codes and remedy codes. While failure codes track what went wrong, cause codes outline why the problem occurred, and remedy codes chart the actions that will resolve the problem. As you will learn shortly, tracking failure codes – along with cause and remedy codes – provides great value in terms of analytics and reporting.

Why Use Failure Codes?

There are a number of ways failure codes in your CMMS can be beneficial. Consider the following real-world scenarios.

Maintenance Management without CMMS Failure Codes

You’ve probably noticed that technicians describe problems inconsistently on work orders. Say that a piece of equipment stops working due to an electrical issue. One technician may report this as “power interruption.” Another worker may log it as “electrical failure.” A third technician may record the issue as “machine will not start”.

While each of these descriptions might be understood to be the same from a human perspective, a CMMS cannot make the same assumption. Furthermore, when it comes time to create a maintenance report, there is no common data from which to compile the information. In order to identify trends in asset performance without standardized fault codes, you would need to look at each work order individually and build your own list of related failures. As you could imagine, this would be a very painstaking process.

Maintenance Management with CMMS Failure Codes

Now let’s look at a situation in which failure codes are used. Imagine that a work order is created for an asset experiencing an electrical problem. After investigating the issue, the technician concludes that there is a short circuit, so he opens the work order in the CMMS and applies the failure code of SHRT. The repair is complete and the work order is closed.

Later, the maintenance manager uses the CMMS to analyze overall asset health. By searching, sorting, or filtering by a failure code of SHRT, the maintenance manager sees which assets have malfunctioned due to a short circuit, which assets experience the symptom the most, and how often a short circuit occurs for a particular asset or asset class. Based on this analysis, changes are made to preventive maintenance schedules for assets suffering a high rate of shorts, tasks performed on PM jobs to improve wiring standards to prevent future short circuits, or improvements to employee training for wiring techniques.

Read Also: 3 Asset Management KPIs and How to Use Them

A Failure Analysis-Driven Maintenance Strategy

On a basic level, failure codes can be used with a CMMS for simple failure analysis. Pareto charts and other maintenance reports can help you identify which assets are causing the most issues. For most maintenance teams, the use of generic, high-level failure codes is likely enough.

Industries with rigorous maintenance tracking requirements, such as pharmaceuticals, utilities and public works, and government organizations, use failure codes for more advanced purposes including:

  • Root Cause Analysis (RCA): the process of identifying the main reasons for asset failure and determining an approach to resolve them
  • Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): the process of identifying potential failures that may exist within the design of an asset or process
  • Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM): the process of analyzing breakdowns to determine the most effective maintenance approach for each asset

Who Creates Failure Codes?

Failure codes or failure information originates from a number of sources. In organizations that do facility or property management, codes may be derived from building automation system (BAS) software, which contains built-in alarm codes. Machines in manufacturing environments may have failure codes built into the PLC or HMI system. Standards organizations such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) or the American Society for Quality (ASQ) also provide universal standards that include recommendations for failure codes or failure code creation.

An organization may create its own set of failure codes to fit its unique requirements. Custom failure codes should be developed with input from all stakeholders, including employees who may request assistance, maintenance personnel who perform the work, and operations and engineering staff who need to understand what is happening in the field.

Types of Failure Codes

There are many ways to set up and use failure codes, but the most widely-used types are asset-based failure codes and inspection-based failure codes.

Asset-based Failure Codes

With an asset-based approach, each asset is assigned failure codes that may be common to multiple assets or unique to a particular asset spanning all potential reasons for failure. When work orders are created in a CMMS, failure codes “follow” assets to the work order and allow technicians to select from a smaller set of codes specific to the asset.

Inspection-based Failure Codes

Inspection-based failure codes account for possible types of failures based on visual inspections. For example, failure codes may be created for conditions such as noise, visible damage, fluid levels, vibrations, and so on. Unlike asset-based failure codes which are more specific, inspection-based failure codes are general, making the list of codes more manageable. However, more detailed information must be entered into the CMMS.


Failure codes can add value to your maintenance tracking practices. Whether starting small with a basic coding system or using advanced analysis, a CMMS makes tracking asset failures easy. FTMaintenance is an easy-to-use maintenance management software platform that allows you to closely track asset failures through robust asset tracking tools and maintenance reports. To learn more about FTMaintenance maintenance management software, request a demo today.