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​A Case Study On Capsule Filling – Improving Performance, Effectiveness and Productivity


The rules have changed when it comes to development of products in the pharmaceutical, health and nutritional industry.

As generic and branded companies in the industry struggle with new products while at the same time addressing the need of new patients, the companies must also meet the growing productivity demands in the manufacturing industry.

The demand for production to market has increased in the industry as consumers today have several choices made available to them. Competitive selection and lowering cost demands require many manufacturing companies to increase production while still improving the performance of the product.

Due to these new rules, cost leadership has become the tune for many pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. Generally, one way for cost efficiency is to examine the cost of the raw material. Although this approach is still important, it does not lead to a sustainable cost leadership especially as low cost materials can compromise the product performance.


Capsugel, one of the leading suppliers for empty capsules, has a unique outlook on this matter. The company has an in-depth knowledge on the customer base as they have varying capsule filling equipment and an extensive range of filling ingredients. As most supervisors can attest, it is difficult to achieve the speed for recent manufacturing equipment with a sticky fill material with poor flow attributes.

Nonetheless, profitability and manufacturing can be done with the right mixture of the formulation, capsule and filing equipment. Optimizing the manufacturing process to exploit fully the integrity of the capsule and consistency makes sense. Understanding the influence that each one has can help prevent problems during the developmental stage and increase the efficiency leading to greater productivity.

The company has created a wide range of industry leading capsules designed for optimal performance for all formulation types. The service team has continually requested for feedback from customers on equipment purchase, flow evaluation as well as personnel training to complete the learning loop. With this data on hand, the company is able to determine efficient cost savings, using Savings Reports that are based on cost-in-use.

Fundamental Cost of Manufacturing

The company’s manufacturing cost is driven by the raw material, product processing, expense and yields or finished products. The raw material includes the cost of the material itself as well as the different tests conducted to ensure the formulation content, safety and effectiveness. One can achieve cost savings by working with reliable suppliers that have known and established testing methods. By collaborating with a reliable vendor, one can reduce the cost of testing which would then lead to increased lead-time, lower inventory level, free up working capital and lower holding costs such as insurances and taxes among others.

Case Study

A large multi-national pharmaceutical company certified Capsugel as a vendor. It then took advantage of Capsugel’s testing services, which later on resulted to the company saving up to $119k annual for testing of raw materials. This also includes services such as sample collection, inventory savings and testing expense.

A New Look on Capsule Filling – Speed vs. Yields

“Time is money” certainly holds true in whatever business or industry one belongs to. In order to deliver one’s product, the company has to pay for its facilities, which not only include the place but also labor and utilities, the cost of which can fluctuate depending on the volume produced not to mention insurance and other fixed costs. When more products are produced, the cost is reduced even when one is using the same equipment and number of working employees. That said, the time to manufacture goods can be broken into 2 variables – uptime and equipment throughput.

Despite the correlation of speed and cost, increasing production yield has still been the company’s main objective. This is understandable as in the capsule filling industry, filling the capsules accounts for the cost of the company and not the empty capsules. Increasing the yield produced would result to reduced losses of materials as well time and energy. Even a small increase in the yield production can have a significant impact to the company financially.

In a review conducted by the Capsugel Technical Service team, an increase of 2/3 yield resulted to an incremental 2 to 4%. Although some changes are conducted using complex solutions, the majority saw the importance of training personnel as well as maintenance of the filling equipment.

Case Study

Company X has been experiencing problems with their joined capsules wherein an internal inspection shows that the problem was with one of its equipment. The internal inspection causes loss of production time as well as consistent low yield. Upon inspection of the Capsugel Technical Service, a recommendation was made where the counter bearing height was adjusted together with the timing of the movement. This reduced poor joining capsules and resolved the problem. Internal inspection was eliminated and yield increased to 8%, where the company realized a $94k annual cost savings from one product alone.

Increasing Speed to Increase Profit

In a study conducted by the team, they realized that the total savings return associated with increased speed is higher than that for production increase. In a study conducted by the team concerning capsule filling productivity on the cost savings based on filling productivity and efficiency or cost by the increase of the machine speed, the average productivity savings is estimated at $91k or an annual aggregate savings of $2m.

The combined savings for both exceeds the cost spent on empty capsules.

This report supports the conclusion that improving the capsule filling efficiency is not a total waste of time for companies. The combined savings exceeded that of the cost spent on empty capsules used for managed projects. Particularly, increase in machine speed caused 61% impact to the company’s finances. At an individual level, an increase in the machine speed would yield an average of 14k capsules/hour.

The absence of faster throughput is often due to other manufacturing circumstances as illustrated below.

Case Study

Company X invited Capsugel to look at their capsule filling operation. The company has been running below the rated speed for their machine. The factor that limits the production increase was the non-separation of the capsule when the machine runs in high speed. Upon inspection, the team discovered that the vacuum pump was not the right size resulting in the separation problem. When the problem was corrected, the machine speed was increased to 83% resulting to savings of $365k annually for the company.

Why is there a significant difference with cost savings when comparing speed increase versus yield improvement? It is to one’s understanding that the increase in machine speed has finally

gotten the attention that it deserves as companies are now understanding the importance of improving their machine speeds. In previous years, yield lost has been the focus of attention especially when it comes to its financial impact to the company and machine speed is seen as one of the reasons for yield loss but has never really been given enough attention to realize the real impact it can cause to any company.

Nowadays, companies are discovering how higher throughput can have a bigger influence to the company’s financial welfare. Although a higher throughput enables the company to make better use of the labor and utilities available, it also maximizes the capacity enabling increased profit for the company without having to shell out additional capital to purchase new equipment.

Reducing Downtime Increase Profitability

Data collected show that reduced downtime results to better savings for the company. Although the numbers only reflect a downtime of 1 to 2 hours, this may not really reflect the real impact that reduced downtime to the company’s financial welfare. In the following case study, it was noted that downtime could be lessened through implementing preventative maintenance.

Case Study

Company J has been experiencing plenty of downtimes due to the sticking problem of one of their products. The company explained that due to the sticking problem, the machine parts are cleaned frequently to avoid any problems with the capsule fitting resulting to downtimes and production delays. To solve this issue, the Capsugel team designed an ejection brush cleaning system to remove the build-ups in the machine, while it is running. This results to lower downtime for the company and a savings of $32k annually.

Quality Design and Its Impact

To ensure the best productivity result, it is important to think and plan especially during the initial phase. In order to build a quality product, one must optimize to avoid any problems during the delivery of the product to the end consumer. The concept known as “Quality by Design” is a popular one and is considered as the foundation of the Six Sigma Methodologies. Pioneered by Mr. Joseph Juran, it asserts that one can plan quality and that the problems that one faces are related to how quality was planned during the initial stage.

In order to achieve capsule filling efficiency through Quality by Design, it is important to consider the equipment and the dosing formula used. Each formula has its own features, benefits as well as limitations. Efficiency and profitability then lies between the equipment, formula and the capsule. By understanding the formula and its characteristics as well as its effects on the equipment, one would be able to prevent any potential problems. For example, one would find a sticky powder would not work with a tamping technology, as due to its stickiness, it is hard to compact. There are times when the powder flow characteristics do not match with the equipment and as such, it might be prudent to use the Six Sigma method to adjust the outcome.

Case Study

A tablet manufacturer has been receiving several complaints about the bitter taste of a capsule that the company has been producing. During the manufacturing stage, it was found out that the capsules were joined poorly and the bitter powder coated the segments of the tamping machine. Analyzing further, the company discovered that the sticky and gritty powder was not compacted properly resulting to failure in the desired weight and the capsules were then filled with more granules. This results to powder loss and the residual powder in the segment causes the bitter taste. To resolve this issue, the team adjusted the equipment for it to have a better fit reducing the powder loss. As a result, the yield increased up to 10% as cleaning time was reduced and as the machine speed is increased to 25% without sacrificing the weight, realizing extra savings for the company. Savings were up to nearly $1M and complaints received have dropped significantly.

Measurement – Why it is Crucial for a Company’s Success

Lord William Thomson Kelvin said, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” This quote does not only apply to science but also applies to today’s businesses. Knowing how to measure the driving force behind one’s business is the key to increasing profit.

Capsugel has developed a comprehensive report, which shows the impact of adjustment to increasing efficiency and overall savings for the company. Before, manufacturing companies concentrate on machine-related-end-points such as waste and downtime, nowadays, by following the report and adjusting these metrics, one would be able to see real-world cost impact. Companies are now in a better position to plan and place these safeguards to protect and increase their productivity.

Case Study

Company Y has been experiencing several defects after encapsulation. The team quickly identified the problem that caused the defects, which is the excessive wear of the machine’s segments. By presenting the report, the team was able to provide the manufacturer with cost- benefit analysis of replacing the worn out piece(s). The cost of replacing the worn out equipment is much cheaper than the current loss that the company expects.