Pharmaceutical tablets have been around for years, and to many, it may not seem like they’ve changed much compared to other manufacturing products—but what about the process of making these tablets? Just as with any other industry, advances in the tableting process have made it faster, safer, and more cost-efficient. As we move forward, we can expect continued advancements to meet the ever-changing needs of the pharmaceutical industry. SED's technical team has an internal understanding of this production process, recent developments and future development directions.
The majority of tablets are pharmaceutical; therefore, it’s essential to repeatedly create tablets of the proper quality and dimensions. Errors in this regard can lead to inaccurate dosages.
This precision is made possible largely because of automation. Any adjustments to the weight or thickness of the tablet can be made via a touch screen human-machine interface (HMI). This not only improves the accuracy, it’s also faster and more efficient than making manual adjustments. The future of tableting will rely on greater automation innovation along with the appropriate balance of manual labor. Operators will remain essential for making changes to the run and watching for malfunctions.
Automated machinery naturally comes with some safety risks. When it comes to tablets, workers are dealing with an increasing incidence of potent compounds that may require additional safety measures. Accidental exposure to these compounds, via touch or inhalation, can be dangerous. Therefore, technology like glove ports, door interlocks, rapid transfer ports, and more reduce the risk of exposure. High-containment applications keep the products inside the press and give operators the opportunity, when required, to access certain parts of the machine in case of malfunction, without breaching containment. Automated wet cleaning also has its place when the manufacturer seeks to bind airborne particulates to water molecules, thereby mitigating the risk of accidental inhalation.
Changes in Medicine & Pharmaceuticals
Trends in the medical industry can have a big impact on the tablet making process. For example:
- Mini- / micro-tablets: Smaller tablets are growing in popularity, not only as low-dose options for pediatric medications, but for geriatric patients who have trouble swallowing a regular sized typical tablet. Mini-tablets also have improved medicinal effectiveness because if there are any defects on its surface, there is a lower risk of affecting the mini-tablet’s therapeutic band. Many micro-tablets are also put into hard-shell capsules.
- Double-Layer Tablets: Bi-layer tablets remain the most common non-standard tablet format. Their use can be driven by numerous factors. In some cases it is important to physically separate two different formulations until they are broken down by the patient’s body. This is also seen in “osmotic pump” coated bi-layer tablets, where one layer acts as a “push” layer to push the active layer out of a tiny, laser-drilled aperture on the surface of the tablet. And sometimes the employment of a bi-layer tablet is purely marketing-driven. SED has always been at the leading edge of bi-layer technology, with regards to both presses and press tooling. Today’s high-tech presses make it easier to switch between single layer and double layer tablets. The double-layer versions require special considerations, which have inspired the introduction of features that prevent cross-contamination and allow for control over the compression of each individual layer.
Increasing Production Volumes & Efficiency
With higher volume orders, there’s an opportunity for Continuous Manufacturing to increase in popularity. Continuous processes represent a potential shift away from classic batch manufacturing, and can bring with them some significant benefits. Linked production processes result in a continuous, single manufacturing stream. Products can make it to the market faster, material costs can decrease, and end users can eliminate the need for storage of intermediates. While not all pharmaceutical companies have jumped on the Continuous Manufacturing bandwagon just yet, it does show great promise.
Multi-tip tooling is another way to diversify one’s manufacturing, as it brings with it its own set of benefits. Depending on the number of tips that can be fit on any one punch, the end user can dramatically increase output. And, given the fact output can rise so significantly many multi-tip users are actually able to slow a press down, saving on component life, while still ultimately producing more. Due to the level of engineering that goes into each multi-tipped punch, tooling costs can be high.