September 1, 1999
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 theinitial cost of setting up a capsule manufacturing facility is quickly offset by thesavings and convenience they gain. Having a machine on site enables companies to produceas many capsules as they need when they need them. Unlike buying finished capsules from anoutside 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," suggestedRita Haupt, president of encap systems inc., distributor of P+AM capsule fillingequipment. Is the company selling thousands of jars a day or just getting started? Arethey expecting a large order soon? For smaller companies, a manual capsule filling systemis a good way to start. For example, a manual or benchtop filler fills about 400 capsulesper hour with two operators.
This output can be increased to 9,000 capsules per hour when an automatic capsule trayfiller is added. This machine automatically loads the trays with empty capsules that arethen transferred to the capsule filling machine for separating and filling. Systems thatinclude 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 asemi-automatic capsule-filling machine. The manual machine and tray filler can then beused for small runs and for test batches and new product development. The output ofsemi-automatics varies from 15,000 to 28,000 capsules per hour depending on the kind ofmachine and the capsule size. Although there are many such machines on the market, mostare engineered with three "stations." The first station is an automatic loadingstation that loads empty capsules into a ring, then stops automatically when the ring isfull. At this point, the capsules are separated for filling.
The second station, the filling station, should have a motorized drug hopper thatswings in to fill the capsules and then swings back automatically when completing thecycle. The third, the closing station, utilizes a sensor that activates a pneumaticcylinder 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 asemi-automatic machine include lightweight rings to reduce operator fatigue, logicallyplaced 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--slowerspeeds for "sticky" supplements and herbals and higher speeds for very finematerials. Look for features that allow for quick cleaning and changing of parts so themachine can be ready for a new formula in a short amount of time. Semi-automatic machinesare easy to operate. A new operator can be trained in less than a day to operate themachine efficiently, maintain and repair it. Semi-automatics are also easy to clean andchange over to another product or another capsule size. Usually, that takes less than 30minutes.
The next step up from a semi-automatic capsule-filling machine is an automatic capsulefiller. However, before adding an automatic, manufacturers should know the advantages anddisadvantages. Automatic machines are much faster, with output ranging from 40,000capsules per hour to more than 200,000 capsules per hour, but companies should have ahighly trained technician on staff, because the machines require careful handling.According to Haupt, "Many companies purchase automatic machines and are then amazedto 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 ofone product. They are not the ideal machine for smaller runs of different types ofproducts."
Many companies purchase several semi-automatics for day-to-day production. Then, ifthere is a product or customer that requires very large quantities of one product, anautomatic is added specifically for that purpose.
All three types of capsule-filling machines can be found in most facilities. Manualmachines for new product development and test batches, semi-automatics for day-to-day runsand automatic machines for large customers or high volume runs.
Encap is one of many capsule-filling equipment manufacturers. Other well-knowncompanies include Capsugel, Shaffer Technologies, INDEX, IMA and Tradimex.
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