Manufacturing Your Own Capsules Saves Time and Money
by Rebecca Blum, Marketing, encap systems inc.
With the dietary supplement business booming, many companies are now finding that the initial cost of setting up a capsule manufacturing facility is quickly offset by the savings and convenience they gain. Having a machine on site enables companies to produce as many capsules as they need when they need them. Unlike buying finished capsules from an outside vendor, there are never any minimums to meet and there is no waiting.
"Before deciding what type of capsule filling equipment best suits the company, owners should determine their current needs as well as future business," suggested Rita Haupt, president of encap systems inc., distributor of P+AM capsule filling equipment. Is the company selling thousands of jars a day or just getting started? Are they expecting a large order soon? For smaller companies, a manual capsule filling system is a good way to start. For example, a manual or benchtop filler fills about 400 capsules per hour with two operators.
This output can be increased to 9,000 capsules per hour when an automatic capsule tray filler is added. This machine automatically loads the trays with empty capsules that are then transferred to the capsule filling machine for separating and filling. Systems that include the manual capsule filling machine and automatic tray loader cost around $10,000.
When the company is ready to move up to a faster system, they should consider a semi-automatic capsule-filling machine. The manual machine and tray filler can then be used for small runs and for test batches and new product development. The output of semi-automatics varies from 15,000 to 28,000 capsules per hour depending on the kind of machine and the capsule size. Although there are many such machines on the market, most are engineered with three "stations." The first station is an automatic loading station that loads empty capsules into a ring, then stops automatically when the ring is full. At this point, the capsules are separated for filling.
The second station, the filling station, should have a motorized drug hopper that swings in to fill the capsules and then swings back automatically when completing the cycle. The third, the closing station, utilizes a sensor that activates a pneumatic cylinder to carry out the closing and sealing of the capsules.
During the process, an operator manually moves the rings around to the three stations. Important, "operator friendly" features to look for when choosing a semi-automatic machine include lightweight rings to reduce operator fatigue, logically placed controls and safety features.
The machine should also have a variety of speeds to accommodate different materials. For example, to achieve fill weights on capsules, different speeds are utilized--slower speeds for "sticky" supplements and herbals and higher speeds for very fine materials. Look for features that allow for quick cleaning and changing of parts so the machine can be ready for a new formula in a short amount of time. Semi-automatic machines are easy to operate. A new operator can be trained in less than a day to operate the machine efficiently, maintain and repair it. Semi-automatics are also easy to clean and change over to another product or another capsule size. Usually, that takes less than 30 minutes.
The next step up from a semi-automatic capsule-filling machine is an automatic capsule filler. However, before adding an automatic, manufacturers should know the advantages and disadvantages. Automatic machines are much faster, with output ranging from 40,000 capsules per hour to more than 200,000 capsules per hour, but companies should have a highly trained technician on staff, because the machines require careful handling. According to Haupt, "Many companies purchase automatic machines and are then amazed to discover that cleaning and changing parts on the machine can take as long as one day. Automatics are wonderful, but should only be used for producing a very large quantity of one product. They are not the ideal machine for smaller runs of different types of products."
Many companies purchase several semi-automatics for day-to-day production. Then, if there is a product or customer that requires very large quantities of one product, an automatic is added specifically for that purpose.
All three types of capsule-filling machines can be found in most facilities. Manual machines for new product development and test batches, semi-automatics for day-to-day runs and automatic machines for large customers or high volume runs.
Encap is one of many capsule-filling equipment manufacturers. Other well-known companies include Capsugel, Shaffer Technologies, INDEX, IMA and Tradimex.