Understanding Hierarchical Structures in CMMS

Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) solutions such as eMaint were developed to improve management and performance of an organization’s assets. To make this a reality for CMMS users, there must be an underlying hierarchical structure that provides a foundation for those assets. Asset structures can be set up in a variety of ways, but there are a few underlying principles that any organization can use to develop a hierarchy that works for them.

Hierarchical asset structures are not just a copy-and-paste solution. A lot of thought must go into the process to decide why hierarchical structures make sense for your organization, and what connections can be made between assets. So now you might be asking yourself, what exactly is a hierarchical asset structure? What are the benefits? What is the process of developing these structures?

Hierarchical Asset Structure

A simple definition of hierarchy is “a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority.” In relation to assets, hierarchy is the relationship between the highest level of equipment and subordinate parts.

For example, in an equipment hierarchy, a tractor might be classified as two levels above its carburetor system. This is often called the “parent-child relationship.” Establishing this relationship allows you to easily identify which assets you can perform maintenance and reliability on vs. all of your tangible pieces, parts, equipment and rooms. Just remember: it’s all about how to organize your assets to maximize wrench time, productivity, and profit.

Benefits of Hierarchical Asset Structures

With the right asset hierarchy, an organization can greatly improve asset performance. You could realize improvements such as:

1. More effective scheduling of preventive and predictive maintenance activities
Consider your planner’s process for scheduling maintenance on a piece of equipment. With a sound hierarchical asset structure, all the assets associated with that piece of equipment, such as gear boxes, instrumentation, safety valves, and isolation points become candidates for maintenance while the equipment is offline. This is an especially salient idea to increase uptime and productivity during unplanned breakdowns. Asset hierarchies allow technicians to understand which assets have upcoming PM tasks scheduled in a matter of seconds. Then your team can perform that maintenance and take advantage of an unscheduled event, rather than racking up even more downtime for your technicians and assets.

2. The ability to charge costs to the lowest possible asset level
An effective hierarchical structure helps identify where maintenance dollars are actually being spent. It enables maintenance to write work orders for specific asset levels, rather than to a general area. For example, without relationship hierarchy, work orders are charged to large locations such as “The Mill”, or “The Kitchen.” To understand what is actually driving these costs, you would have to pour over hundreds or thousands of work orders to crack the case. Asset Hierarchy takes this out of the equation, by providing you with asset classifications up front. This helps develop historical data that can be used to calculate total cost of ownership, and contribute to actual data to make “repair vs. replace” decisions.

3. Allows for Failure Mode & Effects Analysis (FMEA)
FMEA is a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a design, manufacturing process, asset or service. “Failure Modes” are the ways in which something might fail, and “Effects Analysis” refers to studying the consequences of those failures. Failures are prioritized according to how serious their consequences are, how frequently they occur and how easily they can be detected. The purpose of the FMEA, as an extension of relationship hierarchy, is to help you take action, think maintenance plan, and eliminate or reduce failures.

Beginning an Asset Hierarchy

So while this all sounds great, how do you actually begin developing an Asset Hierarchy?

1. Start with the end in mind. When setting up an asset structure, it is important to consider what pieces of information are important to you. Considering the following questions is vital in taking initial steps in making smarter, faster and better decisions.

  • What is the total cost of ownership for a particular piece of equipment?
  • What is the mean time between failures for a particular equipment type?
  • What is the mean time to repair similar equipment but different manufacturers?
  • Which child component is causing the most unplanned downtime?
  • Which child component should be included in the next PM outage?
  • What is the break even analysis for repairing vs. replacing?

2. Set up your specific asset hierarchy. Make sure your hierarchical asset structure has not just been cut and pasted from someone else, and make sure there was some thought put into why it makes sense for your organization. This includes:

  • Looking at a building diagram of your asset domain. What natural groupings do you notice? Where are your power sources? What is the natural geography that drives your decision making?
  • Start identifying similar assets, assets from the same manufacturer, assets with similar power consumption ratings, etc.
  • Set up Parent/Child Relationships using categories such as Asset Tag, Asset Name, Parent Asset, Parent Asset ID, Asset Type, Manufacturer, Model Number, Serial Number, Location, and Room / Level.

3. Monitor asset performance. Within a month of setting up your asset hierarchy, start trying to run reports and get in a room with subject matter experts. Ask them, what is most important? What is the Mean Time To Repair (MTTR) assets? If you can’t answer these questions within a few keystrokes, you have probably missed something in your hierarchy. It’s time to go back and fix it, and rework your structure.

4. Prioritize improvement areas. Use Root Cause Analysis (RCA) to root down in order to see what is driving costs, and do an FMEA exercise. Though the FMEA seems to be a tedious process, you will be surprised about the level of brainstorming, and evidence for decision-making this data can enable.


Utilizing an effective hierarchical structure can completely revitalize the management and performance of your organization’s assets. Establishing parent-child relationships between your assets is a vital aspect of this structure. As you now know, these relationships help to identify which assets you can perform maintenance on, and which assets are connected. This is a major benefit when thinking about downtime that collects for technicians and equipment during PMs. In seconds, you can discover which assets have PMs coming up, and perform all of this maintenance at the same time – even during unscheduled shutdowns.

Hierarchical Asset Structures are a process, and take a lot of work to flesh out. Once your organization begins to see results from the relationships you construct, new levels of communication can develop. With meaningful data about assets to help drive repair vs. replace decisions, and a way to group equipment PMs to help make the most of your time, your asset organization and management may skyrocket.

Learn more about how to improve your asset tracking by establishing a hierarchical asset structure within eMaint CMMS.

Upcoming Live Best Practices Webinar

Topic: Baselining & Trending Asset Data for Predictive Maintenance
Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Time: 11:00am – 12:00pm ET (10:00am CT, 9:00am MT, 8:00am PT, 4:00pm GMT)
Speaker: Alex Desselle, Product Application Specialist, Fluke Corporation

During this month’s Best Practices Webinar session, Alex Desselle, Product Application Specialist at Fluke Corporation, will offer the keys to correlating data to their effect on asset performance and management. He will also discuss how these trends can guide the development of an predictive maintenance program.

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