How Are Supplements Made?
Today’s post looks beyond the product benefits and to the actual manufacturing process, as you may be wondering how they are made.
Full-scale vitamin production actually started in the 1930s during World War 2, used to supplement peoples diets during a time where people struggled to get adequate nutrition from their diet. The use of supplements only grew over the years to be considered a staple in most people's daily living, we will cover why in a future blog post (so stay tuned) but for now we look at how they are actually manufactured.
First things first let's make it clear - not all vitamins are the same, some are natural, some synthetic, some a combination of both. You can also get supplements that are food cultured, some food-based and others of bacterial fermentation!
For the purpose of this blog, we will take a look at one in particular - Vitamin C and the process it goes through to get into the tablet form you receive it in.
In the first step, the raw materials are gathered, either from synthetic sources or from a natural food product. There is little chemical difference between those made naturally and those which are produced synthetically. The raw material is tested for identity and potency prior to its mix.
The materials are then turned into a fine powder and then run through a mill and ground. This ensures that the products are easy to blend and bind.
The raw materials are then added to binders and fillers and processed in a machine that weighs each ingredient before mixing them.
Vitamin tablets are made in a tabletting machine. After the vitamin blend has been mixed in the mixer, workers dump it into a hopper above the machine. The vitamin powder then flows through the hopper to a filling station beneath and flows from there to a rotating table. The rotating table maybe 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2m) in diameter, or even bigger, and is fitted with holes on its outside edge that hold dies in the shape of the desired tablet (oval, round, animal, etc.). The dies are interchangeable, so the same table can produce whatever shape the manufacturer wishes, as long as the proper dies are installed.
The vitamin powder flows from the filling station to fill the die. When the table rotates, the filled die moves into a punch press. When the upper and lower halves of the punch meet, 4-10 tons (3.6-9 metric tons) of pressure is exerted on the vitamin powder. The pressure compresses the vitamin powder into a compact tablet. The punch releases and the lower punch lifts to eject the tablet. Some tabletting machines may have two punches, one on each side, so two tablets are made simultaneously. The speed of the rotation of the table determines how many tablets are made per minute. The tablets eject onto a vibrating belt which vibrates any loose dust off the tablets. The tablets are moved to the coating area.
They may also be coated to aid in digestion and absorption in the stomach. Finally, the products go through a pill counting machine into their individual packages.
Bonus fun, check out this video by Ginnie Trinh Nguyen on how vitamins work …