How do softgel capsules go from a collection of ingredients and materials to a completed product ready for sale? This is achieved via a tried-and-tested process of encapsulation and finishing. In this article, we’re going to be focusing specifically on the softgel drying section of this process.
Read on to discover more about how softgel drying works in capsule manufacturing.
Before softgel drying can take place, the active ingredients must be added to the capsules via the encapsulation process. This takes place within an automated system of machinery, with envelopes made from gelatine – or non-animal-based gelatine substitute material in some cases – that are filled with the active ingredients. The automation helps to ensure a standardized product, with a predictable shape, size, and dosage.
While modern technology is certainly much more sophisticated than it once was, the fundamentals of the process have not changed too much from Robert Scherer’s rotary die press, first used in the 1930s. Typically, two ribbons are created to form the envelope, and the filling material is injected between these ribbons. The individual capsules are then sealed, separated, and moved on to the next stage of the process.
When the capsules emerge from the encapsulation machine, they are formed to some extent, but they do not yet have the properties that consumers expect. The finished capsules should be soft – hence the name ‘softgel’ – but they should also have some structural integrity. This structure comes during the pre-drying phase.
The newly encapsulated softgels are loaded into a pre-dryer. Within this pre-dryer, fans apply a steady current of air designed to remove any excess moisture from the capsules. A rotating drum moves the capsules through the drying chamber, giving each gel cap the same level of exposure to the air passing through the machine. As the moisture is removed from each of the capsules, they begin to harden and solidify, giving the softgel its popular shape and form.
Great care is needed to prevent the caps from sticking to the inside of the softgel pre-drying drum, as this could damage them once they are removed. Also, the edges of the drum must be smooth, avoiding any potential scratches or scrapes that could ruin the softgel batch.
Loading Onto Trays
The capsules themselves are created in the first phase of the process and are solidified in the second phase. Now, they need to be dried completely, so they must be loaded onto drying trays. This involves more automation, as the newly formed capsules are transported along the conveyor and deposited in ready-made trays. These trays are manufactured using a fiberglass polycarbonate material that is lightweight and portable while also being robust and hardwearing. This material is far superior to the plastic and metal trays that have been used traditionally, which are susceptible to cracking and denting, respectively.
Uniformity and consistency are important here once again. It is crucial to distribute the capsules evenly around the tray, ensuring all the capsules are dried at the same rate and to the same extent. Consumers expect a certain standard when they buy softgel capsules, and the nature of the drying process is a big part of this.
The caps have already undergone part of the drying process during the pre-drying phase. However, the main process of drying is about to begin – this process is slower and more methodical, giving the softgels the desired texture and consistency.
The softgel drying trays, laden with gel capsules, travel through a drying tunnel at a low speed. This tunnel is strictly controlled so that moisture levels, temperatures, and other environmental conditions remain the same throughout the gel trays’ journey from the entrance point to the exit point. A flow of air is also moving through the tunnel in the opposite direction to the gel tray, further removing moisture from the trays as they pass. This air is also kept at a controlled temperature to avoid excessive thickness forming in the gel cap envelope.
Softgel drying is designed to be a highly efficient process. Large numbers of trays can be dried at the same time, moving through the drying tunnel in stacks. This offers increased capacity for the manufacturing facility. Meanwhile, the conveyor system means the tunnel can be run continuously, with new batches moving into the drying chamber while finished capsules are leaving at the exit point.
Quality Assurance and Inspection
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 updated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, including softgel supplements within the act’s wording for the first time. This puts softgel capsules within the direct jurisdiction of federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), making quality assurance and inspection very important. Before the capsules are released for packaging and distribution, they must be checked and inspected.
QA and inspection duties are handled via a mixture of manual and automated processes. Automatic gauges and sensors provide general insight into the size, shape, and consistency of each batch of softgel capsules, while human teams offer another level of protection, checking for any anomalies that the automated equipment may have missed.
Packaging and Distribution
Once all the softgel capsules are sufficiently dried and have been checked and assessed, they can be loaded into the packaging. This might involve placing the softgels in blister packs, which are sealed with protective foil, or collecting them in tubs and plastic jars. In both cases, automated machinery will typically handle the packaging step with speed and efficiency, avoiding any damage to softgels in this late stage.
After packaging, the softgels are sent to retailers and other point-of-sale locations, ready to be purchased and used by customers.
Get the Fiberglass Composite Softgel Trays You Need
At Chemtech, we are serious about supporting our customers and clients. This means giving softgel capsule suppliers and manufacturers across the country the solutions they need to deliver the very best to their own end users. This includes offering fiberglass composite softgel drying trays, each designed to be lightweight, portable, robust, resistant to damage, and well-suited to the softgel manufacturing process. Check out our range of fiberglass composite softgel drying trays and find what you need, or reach out to our team directly to learn more.