Originally Published NO June 2010
Fast, efficient capsule filling is the goal of every manufacturer, as minimizing waste can save thousands of dollars every year. Dietary supplement manufacturers have a wealth of knowledge and experience in capsule filling. As pressure for "just in time" manufacturing and improved yields increases, manufacturers are looking for even more ways to keep their encapsulating practices as efficient and trouble-free as possible.
Often when there are encapsulation problems, the cause is attributed to inconsistencies in the capsules being used. Certainly, the quality, consistency, storage, and running conditions of your capsules are important, but there are other elements in the process that also need to be considered. The condition of the capsule-filling machines and their ability to achieve required weights, along with operator training and experience, play key roles in achieving maximum yields and operator safety.
Manufacturers of dietary supplements face unique challenges because of the nature of their products. They often use multiple ingredients with different textures, which can complicate filling. Natural ingredients may show inconsistencies from lot to lot, which may mean that encapsulating parameters must be adjusted. The materials may also have varying flow properties, compressibility, and lubricity, and some ingredients may be abrasive, which requires that the tooling be inspected frequently and well maintained.
Tips for Success
1. To ensure that capsules are of the highest quality and consistency, choose capsule suppliers that manufacture using the best materials possible and that use intensive in-process quality controls reinforced by rigorous quality-assurance programs such as 5S, Six Sigma, and PAT.
2. Keeping encapsulation machines in good running order is obviously very important to ensure proper performance. There are many different types of capsule-filling machines (manual, semiautomatic, automatic, intermittent, and continuous rotary) made by different manufacturers. They all require specific settings and adjustments depending on the type of formulation. The machine condition and setup play a significant role in capsule-filling efficiency.
3. Look for a machine manufacturer that offers a preventive maintenance program. This can greatly enhance the life and performance of your capsule-filling machines. Preventive maintenance programs can also help improve troubleshooting skills at the operator and machine maintenance level by catching potential issues before they become an issue.
4. Invest in ongoing operator training. It is important for operators to understand the specifications for the capsules before running them. Since there are many variables involved in the encapsulation process, operator training is extremely important in understanding different machine settings and adjustments, troubleshooting when an issue comes up and finding out whether it is a capsule-, machine-, or formulation-related issue.
Technologies for capsule machines continue to evolve as machine manufacturers respond to the needs of the market for specialized applications in capsule filling, whether it is to encapsulate new ingredients or accommodate new capsules. Selecting a machine manufacturer that offers ongoing operator training and support can help keep your machines running smoothly and your operators safe as you evolve to new processes and products.
Most important is that dietary supplement manufacturers recognize the interdependence between capsule, machine, formulation, and finally, the operator. It is very important for an operator to forge strong relationships with their machinery and capsule suppliers, and for those suppliers to step up to the challenge and provide the training and guidance necessary to achieve the best possible yield and efficiency.
Anil Andrade is sales manager for ACG North America (South Plainfield, NJ; www.acg-northamerica.com). ACG North America is the U.S. subsidiary of ACG Worldwide, the second-largest capsule manufacturer in the world. It offers pharmaceutical, OTC, and dietary supplement companies a full range of capsules, blister packing films, and machines such as capsule fillers, tablet presses, blister packers, and cartoners.