How Do I Use Failure Codes and Defect Codes in a CMMS?

Computerized maintenance management systems are by nature complex, wide-spanning systems that cover a lot of different factors. One of the most important of these is failure and defect codes. What are these codes and what do they do? 

Failure and defect codes are alphanumeric codes that provide detailed information on why an asset failed. This information is then stored in a system, such as a CMMS (computerized maintenance management software) or an EAM. Finally, when properly used, these codes are used in many different analyses in order to find out what causes issues and how these issues can be fixed. 

Let’s look at these codes in detail and what they do for companies behind the scenes. 

Failure and defect codes in detail 

At the most basic level, failure and defect codes identify problems in a standardized way that is easily recognizable by the technicians viewing them. Depending on the program used to generate them, they may be signposts pointing the way to a more detailed description of what’s going on, or the information may be contained in a single encrypted line. The information must be translated by someone who understands the codes.

Functions of failure and defect codes

There are three major functions of failure and defect codes. These are:

  • Improving maintenance efficiency
  • Tracking and identifying issues over time
  • And creating an in-depth work order

Here’s a detailed look at each one of these functions and what it does for you and your company. 

Improving Maintenance Efficiency

Failure codes help facilities become more efficient because they bring problematic trends to light. For example, the same operator error failure code repeats itself several times over the course of a few months. A manager may correct the technician, or revise the instructions for the task to prevent that error from occurring again.

Tracking and Identifying Issues Over Time

The more quality information you collect, the stronger your CMMS becomes. Failure codes can be recorded over time, allowing management to generate analytical reports. These reports can serve as the foundation for an ongoing continuous improvement program. For instance, action items can be tied to the highest priority failure code items and re-measured for improvement over time.

Creating In-Depth Work Orders

Most CMMS solutions will allow management to sort by time, date, location, or asset. This ability gives you a great deal of flexibility to examine where and when failure codes are occurring. When properly set up and organized, this data can flow directly into creating detailed work orders that address both the core and consequences of the failure code.

Examples of common failure and defect codes

All computerized maintenance management systems will generate the following 10 failure and defect codes at some point in time. These are:

  • Maintenance codes
  • User mistakes
  • Calibration problems 
  • Asset defects
  • Contamination problems
  • Computer issues
  • Overheating codes 
  • Leak alerts
  • Failure to start
  • and Equipment jams. 

This next section deals with each of these failure codes in detail and explains their purpose and function in general terms. While some companies may not use the standardized codes, they are the exception rather than the rule. 

Maintenance codes

Maintenance failure codes are triggered by any poor maintenance practice. This may include poorly performed maintenance procedures, over-lubrication of components, or failure to attend to details. Continual maintenance codes generally point to neglect as the root cause. 

User mistakes

User failure codes occur when an operator, technician, or other person has done something to damage the asset or machine. This can include vandalism, untrained personnel, or unintentional service mistakes.

Calibration problems

If a machine or asset falls out of a given range, it may indicate a calibration issue. These include a whole range of issues, such as alignment, improper weights, tools left on machinery, and more. Examples include cases where a machine may be improperly aligned, or an asset may need to be calibrated to reduce vibration.

Asset defects

If your equipment has problems with its bearings, motors, gearboxes or other components, an asset defect failure code will be triggered. If it involves machinery, the machines may shut down until the problem is resolved. These codes allow a technician to understand and address the defect quickly and efficiently.

Contamination alerts

Keeping equipment and assets clean can be a challenge, especially if they operate in harsh or unusual environments. If dirt, debris, or other contamination begins interfering with the asset’s performance, this failure code will be triggered and the equipment or areas may shut down. 

Computer issues

If a particular piece of equipment requires a microprocessor to operate, this failure code may be helpful. Perhaps the machine is operating fine, but the computer controls are hung up. This failure code can alert the maintenance team that IT support is required in order to move forward.

Overheating codes

Certain failure codes, such as overheating or smoking triggers, can result in near-emergencies. In severe cases, parts of the facility may need to be evacuated. When a maintenance manager has real-time access to this data, significant damage can be prevented in a timely way.

Leak alerts

General leak failure codes can be incorporated into a CMMS. Examples include input leaks that are specific to liquid or air, liquid leaks that may be corrosive or toxic, and more. On some assets, leakage can result in equipment malfunction, while in others, it can be a drain on energy usage.

Failure to start code

If an asset simply fails to start, the maintenance problem may reside with the power, starter components, or ignition switches. These failure codes can better direct technicians to appropriate equipment components to resolve the issue.

Equipment jams

When a machine or equipment jams, there may be a foreign object blocking its operation. This failure code helps technicians inspect the areas where a machine is most likely to jam and clear them before work stacks up behind the equipment in question.

How to use failure codes

Now that we understand what failure codes and effect codes do and their functions within a computerized maintenance management software system, we can dive deeply into how best to use the information contained within them. There are five steps in this process.

  • Identify failure modes 
  • Set of appropriate failure codes.
  • Include the failure code components on work orders.
  • Optimize work orders. 
  • And test and scale as needed.

Identify failure modes

In order to identify failure modes, companies generally use one or more of four different methods. These are as follows:

  • Failure modes and effects analysis, which is a system that uses risk priority numbers to prioritize situations, events, and things based on the impact that they have on overall operations. This is generally used in situations where a new process or new piece of equipment is being on-boarded
  • The 5 whys method, which is composed of asking “why?”. This method uses the simple question to get to the root cause of whatever the issue is. Cases where the 5 whys method are most helpful typically involve repeating issues that need to be solved as soon as possible.
  • Root cause analysis, which is a systematic process of identifying the origin of an incident. As its name indicates, root cause analysis is most helpful in situations where you want to know exactly what is causing the incident and where it started.
  • Fault tree analysis, which depends on fault tree diagrams to discover the main cause of an event in a systematic and orderly fashion.  

All of these methods have a best time and place for their use. This will depend on the piece of equipment in question, the causes of the event, and other factors dependent on the situation in question. Sometimes, companies use a combined approach of two or more methods to determine what failure modes they are most likely to face. 

Set up appropriate failure codes 

Once you know the most common failures that you may be facing, it's time to set up appropriate failure codes that label and draw attention to these failures. These codes should then be loaded into your CMMS system and slowly distributed to your employees and technicians.

Most experts will tell you that it's best to have 30 or less failure codes. This is the sweet spot between a good variety of codes while not overwhelming your technicians with codes to remember. As they are the ones that will be seeing and working with these codes, it's important to cut down on confusion. 

Some things to keep in mind as you are creating your codes include: 

  • Keep them organized
  • Keep them logical
  • Keep them consistent
  • And keep them simple

Remember: your technicians and workers need to be able to understand your failure codes quickly and easily. 

Include the failure code components on work orders

Not every work order will have a failure code on it, but failure code components can be included in many different work orders. For example, technicians can view failure codes that are similar to the situation that they are handling on a different machine. This keeps repairs consistent and coherent across multiple pieces of machinery. 

If properly tracked, failure modes can contain valuable information about how to shorten different jobs or tasks in question, thus reducing labor costs. They can also provide a holistic overview of the company's machinery and assets in a data-based and proven form.

Your library of failure codes is a quick reference guide for all technicians and employees. They can refer to that database in order to figure out what's been done in the past, which issues have been faced, and which situations have been rectified. All this information can flow into the next step of the process, that is, the optimization of your work orders.

Optimize work orders with this data

Once you have enough data, you can start optimizing your typical work orders with it. Some initial benefits of this process include more accurate system repairs, simplified tasks and work for your employees, and easily analyzed data.

Depending on your system, work orders associated with failure codes can be auto-generated and added to people's workload without having to involve a manager in the process. 

Test and scale as needed 

Finally, as with all business practices, it's time to test and scale your failure codes. Are they working as well as you expected? What are some of the unexpected snags and Tangles that have come up? What do your workers struggle most with? Did you release all the codes at once, creating confusion? How does your software handle these codes?

These are all questions that have to be answered in the testing and scaling phase.

What factors play into accurate failure and defect codes?

Computers can only report on the data that they are given or that they have collected.  If there are flaws in this data, the computers are not necessarily going to catch them. It’s up to the human technician in charge of the system in question to decipher what’s going on. How can these situations be avoided in your failure and defect codes?

The answer can be found in failure code best practices. Here’s a brief overview of general best practices, with some specific suggestions for different types of software.

Failure code best practices 

As with many things, the first best practice is to set up your failure code system using detail and diligence, preferably with a seasoned professional in charge of the project. The same points under creating these codes also apply here: keep them organized, logical, consistent and simple. 

If a disproportionate amount of codes are coming back mislabeled or misunderstood, it’s time to talk to your employees about why this is happening. The sooner this analysis can take place, the better. Talk to the people themselves--don't rely on surveys or other impersonal methods. Invest the time to figure out what exactly is going on and how to solve it.

Other best practices will depend on your unique failure codes and system. While it is time-consuming to put these guidelines into practice, the investment does pay off itself in the future. And it’s not in the far future!

Closing the loop between the failure code and the fix

The next factor that plays into accurate failure code data is the loops between the failure codes and the fixes. These depend on accurate failure code data, but they can also feed into this data in question.

It's important to emphasize that many times the loops will close on their own, particularly and a well-functioning system. However, the loops cannot close when inaccurate data has been given to the system.

The answer to this problem is to make sure that your system is getting the best data it possibly can. Systems such as the Internet of Things, intelligent sensors, and other technology that hooks into your computerized maintenance management software can be of assistance in this part of the process.

In short, if your system is set up well, your loops will close. If your system is not set up adequately, you might need to dive deeper in order to close these loops.

Integrating your failure codes within your CMMS system

Simply generating failure codes is not enough. If companies cannot address failure codes in a timely manner, they will continue to operate damaged equipment. 

As a result, you want a CMMS that can put those failure codes to work, preferably without advanced expert or technical support. This is the first step of closing the loop. Some different ways that a CMMS may do this include:

  • Automatically creating work orders to deal with failure codes 
  • Organizing your failure codes in a coherent and cohesive fashion
  • Provide an easy access point to the history of your failure codes 
  • Record how many times they have been used
  • Record which failure codes are useful and which are not
  • And more!

Beyond this, it's hard to say what your system can do. It highly depends on the system that you are using.

What are the best ways to move forward? 

Finally, it's all very well to study up on failure codes and everything about them. But how does this drive business moving forward? How does this make employees' lives easier? How does it save your equipment? The answer to all these questions can be found in the data that failure codes point towards. 

In conclusion, the best way to use the data that failure codes and effect codes give you is by analyzing the root problems that these codes point towards. Analyzing the findings enables companies to make changes that not only fix problems, but also implement preventive measures to prevent issues from arising in the future. 

These changes are not limited to the shop floor, machinery, other equipment, or your technicians. They can flow into every aspect of your company. And it all starts with a small alphanumeric code that points towards the root causes of minor and major inconveniences, issues, problems, and other stresses that affect daily life in your company.

And that's how failure codes can move you and your company forward into the future. 

Want to keep reading?

What are the Most Common CMMS Failure Codes?

Common failure codes, like user mistakes and calibration problems, allow organizations to track recurring problems and improve maintenance efforts.
View Article

Types of Failure Consequences in Maintenance

Failure consequence refers to the impact of a certain failure mode, primarily used in evaluating assets when using reliability centered maintenance (RCM).
View Article

What are World-class Training Practices for CMMS Software?

There's no "best way" to train employees to use a CMMS - rather, it's best to vary training practices based on the kind of information that's being taught.
View Article


Leading the Way to a Better Future for Maintenance and Reliability

Your asset and equipment data doesn't belong in a silo. UpKeep makes it simple to see where everything stands, all in one place. That means less guesswork and more time to focus on what matters.

Capterra Shortlist 2021
IDC CMMS Leader 2021
[Review Badge] GetApp CMMS 2022 (Dark)
[Review Badge] Gartner Peer Insights (Dark)
G2 Leader