CMMS Failure Codes Explained


What are CMMS Failure Codes?

Equipment failure is an inevitable cost of doing business for most companies. When an asset or piece of equipment does eventually fail, it is important to record the cause for the failure.

A failure code is usually an alphanumeric marker commonly used in a CMMS system to define why a particular asset failed during operation. Work orders use failure codes as shorthand for quick reference, and collecting failure data helps identify failure modes over time.

Why Use Codes?

Failure codes are an important tool to monitor and optimize an organization’s maintenance efficiency. The more accurate and historical data collected in a CMMS, the easier it is to identify problematic trends.

For example, an operator can sort work orders by failure codes to identify issues most likely to occur. If a particular code appears consistently, such as “dirt and debris”, for equipment in a specific location, an operator can investigate the area to determine if there is some design problem or if the area is not properly protected from foreign matter.

By using codes, organizations can prevent gaps in knowledge by tracking trends over time. Collecting failure data to determine common failure modes is critical for organizations looking to implement reliability centered maintenance (RCM) strategies.

For more on reliability centered maintenance, read our intro to RCM here.

Best Practices for Failure Codes (ISO 14224)

It is important when creating and using failure codes to standardize their use and tagging convention. Too few codes leads to inaccurate work orders and data that is nonspecific. An abundance of codes leads to confusion, resulting in operators using a catch-all like “other” or “miscellaneous”. Preferably, the objective is to create enough codes to give accurate information without over-complicating the reporting process.

Similar to assets in a CMMS, codes need a standardized tagging convention. If different operators report the same failure as “leak”, “leaking”, and “leaks”, filtering or running reports will produce inaccurate insights. Limiting failure codes to a predefined list or dropdown, in comparison to an open field, will prevent code variants.

ISO 14224 provides comprehensive data standards and describes data principles useful for reliability applications. While initially established for petroleum, petrochemical and natural gas industries, ISO 14224 provides a helpful framework for all organizations concerned with data collection best practices.

For more on CMMS best practices, download our CMMS Foundational Data Checklist here.

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Important CMMS Codes

Every industry or organization will manage their CMMS differently and while there can be infrequent failures, the majority of equipment failures can be categorized into common codes. While not exhaustive, below are a few frequent codes to be considered in a CMMS:

  1. Broken

    A broken code covers a material failure for an asset and can include fractures, breaches, or cracks.

  2. Calibration

    Calibration errors refer to instruments being out of tune. For example, a pressure indicator to a boiler incorrectly calibrated would show incorrect pressure reading (psi) on the screen, which would pose harm to the boiler.

  3. Foreign Matter

    Often, assets are contaminated with dirt or other forms of debris. Harsher conditions exacerbate these issues and can lead to materials affecting an asset’s performance.

  4. Loose

    Loose assets lead to excessive noise and vibration that pose the risk for further damage.

  5. Corrosion

    Corrosion is the gradual destruction of materials by chemical reactions with their environment. Visible signs of rust are also indicators.

  6. Overheating

    Material damage due to overheating or burning can lead to signification asset failures and should be quickly documented.

  7. Clogged

    Clogged or jam codes are relevant when a foreign object stops equipment from functioning correctly.

  8. Leak

    Leaks are a common failure and leak codes are appropriate for both liquid or air failures.


While every organization will determine the type of codes most beneficial for their asset management, standardized failure codes are an invaluable tool in a CMMS system. By compiling and analyzing codes, patterns emerge that are vital for understanding asset performance and equipment failure. Collecting proper failure codes leads to accurate work orders, more sophisticated maintenance, and ultimately, increased savings.

Learn more about data standards and why it’s critical for reducing maintenance costs