An Ultimate Guide on How to Press Pills

A pill press (or tablet press) is a technique for converting powder to uniformly shaped and sized tablets. With this guide, you will learn how to press solid pills using a pill press machine. Altogether, you’ll see some factors and tips to consider when pressing pills commercially. Let’s dive in!

What Do You Need to Press Pills?

Pressing pills doesn’t only revolve around using machines to compress powder. There are essential preparations required before involving a machine. If not, there will be challenges during the operation.

For instance, powdered substances are notorious for adhering to humid or pressured materials. By ‘humid or pressured materials,’ we mean the tools directly involved in compressing the pills. 

As we apply more pressure during compression, the tools could become mudded with the powder, which could interfere with subsequent operations. This is why we use inactive ingredients like magnesium stearate alongside binding ingredients.

That being said, you need the following things to press pills:

1. Active Ingredient

Also called active pharmaceutical ingredient (API). An active ingredient is the primary compound or element in drugs or medicines that causes an effect when absorbed into the body. They could be synthesized in the lab or from natural elements. 

Ideally, an active ingredient is the only material we need to make a pill. However, you need inactive ingredients (or excipients) to compress them successfully. Choice or branding could be other reasons to use excipients.

2. Excipients

After synthesizing the drug or product with an API, you need excipients to do the final touches, support the active ingredient, increase the binding effect, and prevent the powdered substance from sticking to the machine tools.

Excipients often used alongside APIs during pill press include coloring agents, fillers, binders, disintegrants, and lubricants.

Coloring agents 

Coloring agents are dyes or substances used to apply color to the items being pill-pressed. They are inactive and do not interfere with the biochemical properties of the pills. Apparently, some pills do not need colors. Therefore, you shouldn’t use them since they contribute nothing to the binding or lubricating properties of the pill-pressed item.

Binders

Unlike coloring agents, binding agents (or binders) are important inactive ingredients in pill presses. This is because binding agents provide adhesive properties to the powdered pills, which cause them to stick together when compressed.

Binding agents are usually sugars and proteins like sucrose, starch, gelatin, and celluloses like polyvinylpyrrolidone and microcrystalline cellulose. Save for gelatin, these compounds are natural adhesives applicable to a dry powder to improve its binding effects.

Fillers

There are situations when a pill’s required or legal dosage is too small to fit in a die or be handled by consumers. That’s where fillers come in. They are inactive substances used to complement a pill’s mass and size. They do not cause any effects or compromise the effect of the APIs. 

If the API’s dosage is adequate and can be handled in a press machine or by consumers, then using a filler is unnecessary. So, like coloring agents, you may exclude it from the production process.

Disintegrants

Disintegrants are important inactive ingredients alongside binders, fillers, and lubricants despite not contributing to the pill’s biochemistry. They turn the powdered pill into granules that break down when ingested. Pills with disintegrants normally break down when they come into contact with a humid or liquid environment. Which explains why they do the same in our guts.

Lubricants

Finally, we have lubricants. We briefly discussed them earlier and mentioned a popular lubricant called Magnesium Stearate (Mg St). Meanwhile, lubricants can be applied or sprayed on the tools that are directly in contact with the pill or tablet. This prevents the pills or tablets from clumping into the machine and aids in ejecting them after completing the pill press.

3. Tablet Press Machine

A tablet press is a manual or automated device or machine for pressing pills. As a modern-day rule of thumb, you should use the automated machine if you’re mass-producing pills. This maintains uniformity in the pill’s size and quality. 

Some of the common types of tablet press machines are the single-punch, flower-basket, and rotary tablet press machines. (more on tablet press machines later).

4. Press Pill Tooling

Press pill tooling involves arranging and managing your dies and punches during pill pressing. This influences the tablets’ specs, designs, sizes, mass, etc. 

We have the tableting specification manual (TSM) and the Euro-stand (EU) style. 

  • The Tableting Specification Manual: Published by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), the TSM manual guides the pill-pressing style in America and other countries that use it. This manual instructs pharmacists on the standard design of an American pill or tablet. It also shows pill producers how to use a capsule press and set it up so that the outcome complies with the TSM standard.
  • Euro Standard (EU): which applies to pharmaceutical institutions within that region. This standard has specs and a design distinct from the TSM style. To avoid legal disputes, you must request permission before using the TSM standard in European regions that use the EU style.

For a better understanding of the EU and TSM styles, let’s look at some distinctions:

First, press pill tooling has four standard types: B, D, BB, and DB. The EU and TSM standards have different rules and specs for these press pill types. The table below explains it:

Starting the internal and external diameter of the dies and punches:

Tooling TypeDie Outer Diameter (OD) (Inch)Punch Internal Diameter (ID) (Inch)
B1.190.75
D1.51.00
BB0.950.75
DB1.191.00

The table below distinguishes their specs or design:

Specs/DesignTSMEU
Punch Length0.010 inches less than EU0.010 inches more than TSM
Head StyleSome tablet tooling has a diamond shapeSome tablet tooling has a dome-shape
Internal Head Angle (B)37 degrees30 degrees
Machine Head ThicknessThicker than EU toolingLess thicker than TSM tooling

Classification and Types of Tablet Press Machines

In this section, we’ll discuss table press machines extensively—classifying them based on their automation or manual usage and the number of punches or stations they have. 

A. Classification Based on Automation

Automated tablet presses are modern commercial machines that use electricity and computerized controls (CNC). Examples are Semi-Automatic and Automatic Press Pills.

Alternatively, the manual tablet press machines do not use electricity or computer controls. Instead, you set them up and decouple them manually. The most common type is the hand-held press pill.

Handheld Press Pill

The handheld tablet press is a manual machine that produces tablets in small quantities. Typically, it can only produce one tablet at a time, which is time-consuming and vulnerable to errors.

Traditionally, you must place the punches in the die correctly. Otherwise, you’ll mess up the outcome. This can be overwhelming for newbie operators, requiring some training and getting used to it.

Semi-Automatic Press Pill

The semi-automatic press pill combines the uniqueness of the handheld and automatic tablet presses. As such, it uses electricity but requires manual input and supervision, as with the handheld press pill machine. It also produces tablets in small quantities.

Automatic Press Pill

Automatic tablet presses use CNC technology and electricity. Usually, the standard pill press is programmed into the computer and processed via the die and punches.

This type of pill press requires little or no assistance. Most can produce tablets in bulk quantities, making them ideal for commercial use. Nonetheless, you need the training to operate them.

B. Classification Based on Punch

Punches come together to form dies, which mold and determine the pill’s shape, size, and mass. We can classify a press pill machine based on the number of punches and dies it carries simultaneously. We have the single punch press and multi-station or rotary press.

Single Punch Presses

A single punch has only one tooling station. This station comprises a die and a dyad of upper and lower plungers or punches. Commonly, we have the manual single-punch press. 

However, the automated single punch press can produce over 70 tablets in a minute and over 4,200 tablets in an hour. Some other common features of the single tablet punch presses are:

  • Hopper: This is used to feed the die or hold the granules/powder to be compressed. The hopper can be filled manually or automatically, depending on the type of machine used. 
  • Cam Track: This guides the punches’ flow and movement.
  • Capacity Regulator: This adjusts the material’s volume to the lower punch’s position and determines the tablet’s mass.
  • Ejection Regulator: This adjusts the lower punch’s placement, positioning it on the same level as the die’s surface.
  • Driving Wheel: This pushes the upper and lower punches and the hopper.

Multi-Station/Rotary Presses

As the name implies, the multi-station/rotary press has many punches and dies attached to a turret. To press each pill, the punches make circular motions and clamp down on a long line of stations.

The number of punches a machine has may vary from 16 punches to 33 or even 55 punches. The higher the number of punches a press has, the higher the number of pills it can press per hour. On average, single-punch machines press around 60,000 to 85,000 pills per hour.

How to Make Tablets Using a Single Punch Press [Step-by-Step]

The simple punch press machine is largely manual and ideal for small-scale pill production. If you would to learn how to use a manual pill press, you should follow the steps below:

Step 1. Granulate the Powdered Pill

Pill pressing is easier when the substance is in granules rather than a powdered form. To make the process easier, you can use a granulator to ensure that each granule is uniform in size. It is at this stage that you add the active ingredients to ensure they are incorporated properly.

Step 2. Prepare the Tablet Press

The tablet press is the tool that gives the pill its shape and as such should be properly lubricated for use. You can even adjust the machine settings just to ensure that will give you the desired results while staying in line with industry standards.

Step 3. Feed the Hopper With the Granules

Since you are using a single punch press, you would have to manually feed the granules into the machine. The hopper has enough room.to accommodate the granules that you want to press. Do not forget to remove any excess so that the punch can move freely.

Step 4. Compress the Granules. 

At this stage, the granules pass through the hopper into the die cavity where they will be compressed. The upper punch stamps on the lower punch and compresses the granules to form the pill.

The pill usually takes the exact shape, size, and mass of the mold. For the pill to form properly, the punch has to clamp on the die cavity for a specific period of time. This process is called stamping. 

Step 5. Post-Compression

After the pill is formed, the upper punch returns to its upper dead position while the lower punch ejects the pill from the die cavity.  The formed pills are discharged into a collection bin while the feed dog prepares for the next fill.

How Do You Press Pills With a Rotary Tablet Press?

The rotary tablet press can comfortably handle large-scale production, unlike the single punch press machine which is specifically for small-scale production. This machine is fully automated and more reliable when it comes to productivity and efficiency.

Let us now analyze how to operate an automatic pill press machine:

Step 1. Fill the Die With Granulated Powder

If you know how to press pills, you’ll know that the first step often involves preparing the graduated powder. The powder is blended with APIs and other active ingredients to form the granules. Granules are recommended because they do not stick to the machine.

Once the granulated powder is ready, the next step is to fill the die with the right quantity of granules that can form a pill. To ensure a uniform size and quantity of granules, the depth of the lower punch is adjusted through a process called metering.

Step 2. Precompress the Granules

Pre-compression is important to deoxygenate the pill and prepare it for the final compression. Deoxygenation helps to create a more consistent tablet structure in the end. In this stage, some pills would have already started to take shape.

The precompression roller is small and cannot apply enough force like the main compression roller. Since the machine is automated, it applies enough pressure to create particle-to-particle bonds. Bonding agents also help hold the pill together when the roller is removed.

Step 3. Compress the Precompressed Granules

After pre-compression, the lower and upper punches compress the powder further and produce the final pill. The rotary press rotates to properly compress the granules and when the punches retreat, a tablet is formed.

The number of tablets it can form at a time depends on the speed of the rotary and the number of stations it has. Either way, it can produce thousands of tablets per hour, enough to cater to the supply required of a pharmaceutical company.

Step 4. Eject the Tablet 

Once the tablet is ready, it is ejected from the machine and readied for packaging. To release the tablets, you have to elevate the lower punch. By so doing,  the upper punch is lowered and the tablets are ejected. Some machines even have a rejection mechanism that allows them to expel defective tablets.

Key Factors to Consider When Making Tablets

Now that you know how to press powder into pills, it may be tempting to start producing your own pills. As exciting as it sounds, you must consider some important factors like uniform sizing, and financing, amongst others. 

Before you start making your own tablets, ensure you look out for:

    • The tablet size and shape: The shape of your tablets must comply with TSM or EU standards. If they are too small, they may be difficult to handle or swallow. The shape should be regular and not absurd otherwise you could suffer some legal consequences.
    • The tablet color: Colors go a long way in distinguishing your tablet from rivals and giving you a unique brand. Depending on the ingredients they contain, some tablets often carry a certain color that makes them easily identifiable.
    • Tablet coating: Some tablets have to be coated to improve their aesthetic appeal and make them easier to ingest. Besides the extra cost you will incur, it can be a worthy investment. Ensure you examine the trend with customers before coating your tablet.
    • Pill press price: The pill press price can largely affect your production and budgeting. Before you set out in pill pressing, ensure you are backed up with adequate finance to cover your necessary costs. In some cases, you may have to go for a manual press to cut down on cost. 
    • Branding and Appearance: Branding involves including your company’s logo or insignia on the tablet. This requires a custom tablet press machine. If you must brand the tablet, you must budget and plan for a custom machine.

Conclusion

Pill pressing may seem straightforward but it requires a great deal of concentration and carefulness. Using the wrong tool or missing a step in pressing can result in inconsistent pills. With this guide, you should have a better understanding of how to press pills and the appropriate machines to use.

To get the best results, you need top-notch press machines just like the ones distributed by SaintyTec. With a proper maintenance and cleaning culture, your machine will remain in optimum working condition for longer.

FAQ

How To Tell if a Pill Is Pressed?

Spotting a pressed pill is like a walk in the park; they are literally everywhere. They usually have a brittle texture because of their original powdery form. They are often quite small and can easily fit in the palm of your hand.

However, it is easy to tell if a pill is not properly pressed because it breaks easily. Possible causes of this breakage could either be a shirt pressing time or the absence of a binding agent. With a tablet friability tester, you can test the tablet’s quality.

How To Buy a Pill Press?

In this digital era, buying a Pill Press is easy. You could do a simple Google search to explore e-commerce stores, pharmaceutical machine manufacturers, or distributors like SaintyTec. Next, you could request a quote. If you need a custom pill press machine, you can include it in the quote—most distributors, including SaintyTec, can ship worldwide.

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