Problem-failure codes are one of the top tools that world-class maintenance organizations use to improve asset reliability, predict and prevent equipment failures, and reduce urgent and emergency maintenance levels. In this blog post, we’re going to see how you can develop and benefit from these codes in your operation.

Using problem-failure codes to better understand asset reliability issues

Asset reliability and granularity go hand in hand. To improve reliability over the long term, you need the ability to look under the hood and see exactly where equipment problems are originating, which components are failing, and how issues are being resolved.

For that level of insight, comments on work orders won’t cut it. You need the ability to collect precise, structured data about equipment failures and then aggregate, report, and analyze it. The only way to do that is with detailed equipment failure coding structures, including problem codes, failure codes, and action codes.

Let’s start with some definitions.

  • Problem codes identify the initial problem you are having with a piece of equipment. For example, leaking, vibrating, not working, etc.
  • Failure codes identify what caused the problem. For example, bearing failed, seal worn, bushing damaged, etc.
  • Action codes identify the action the technician took to fix the issue. For example, repaired, replaced, etc.

These codes are applied to corrective maintenance work orders – usually by the technician that fixed the problem. They work together to tell you what the problem is, what caused the problem, and how the problem was fixed.

When these data are aggregated, they can provide valuable insights. For example, you can identify the top ten failure reasons by frequency or cost, top ten problem reasons by frequency or cost, replace vs. repair percentage, etc. Insights like these can be used to help prevent and better predict equipment issues.

Equipment Class Failures

Failure data acts like a reliability compass, pointing you in the direction that needs attention. It tells you what issues to go after and how best to spend your time and money. Best of all, it gives you the data to validate and justify your asset management decisions.

Equipment failure codes help you get to know your assets better. The better you understand your assets, the better and more cost-effectively you can manage them.

Developing problem, failure, and action coding structures

Now that you are convinced (I hope) that problem-failure codes are the way to go, let’s talk about their development. First, these types of coding structures are best developed by asset class (i.e., equipment class). An asset class is a group of assets that share similar characteristics, such as centrifugal pumps or reciprocating compressors. Each asset class should have a set of problem, failure, and action codes that are specific to it. You begin the failure code development process by establishing your asset classes. To look at some sample asset classes, click here.

Once you have your classes identified, the next step is to prioritize them. Not all equipment is treated equally. Some asset classes are more important than others. Develop codes for the most important equipment classes first.

A word of caution. Organizations sometimes over-engineer the development effort. They try to create a perfect code set before they do any tracking, analysis, or action. Developing a perfect code set – one that covers every possible problem and failure mode for every equipment class in the facility – could take years. The pursuit of perfection is admirable, but it will delay the implementation of activities that could make a meaningful impact on uptime. And this delay could be very costly in terms of production, service output, or health, safety, and environmental concerns.

As the old saying goes, perfection is the enemy of progress. Start with something that is good, and then make it better over time. Begin with a foundation of codes. Go ahead and introduce the practice of tracking failure data using problem, failure, and action codes. Establish your reporting outputs and analysis techniques. Don’t wait on being perfect. Being good is good enough to get going. Identify the key problems and failures associated with your equipment classes, and go from there. You can refine over time.

Most Costly Assets

To save yourself development time and effort, you could purchase an equipment failure code library, such as the Problem-Failure-Action Code Library from SwainSmith. Our library includes over 1,900 codes for over 200 common equipment classes. It is designed to jumpstart and springboard your reliability initiative. Starting with a failure code library can significantly reduce your development time and provide an industry-proven foundation to start from. This means you can create move value sooner. We also offer subscriptions that provide monthly updates to keep your library current. We add new equipment classes and codes to our library each week. For more information, contact at 828-215-9471 or

However you choose to do it, developing problem-failure codes is a big step toward building a better maintenance program. Take the first step in getting to know your assets better. They will be happy that you did.

What will you achieve with EAM?

Enterprise asset management gives organizations a strategic way to increase uptime, improve performance, and reduce costs. Is your organization ready to take the next step with its assets?

Call 828-215-9471 or email us to get started today.

Tracy Smith

Tracy S. Smith has been helping organizations solve their asset management challenges for 20 years. He is the president of SwainSmith, Inc., an EAM solutions company. He also offers complimentary 30-minute EAM consultations. No sales pitch or a pesky follow-up call. Just straight answers to your questions—and an objective, experienced assessment of your issues and goals.