How Pneumatic Conveying Can Improve the Tablet Production Process
Vacuum technologies and pneumatic conveying can streamline production, reduce costs, and provide sustainability benefits.
The preferred dosage form for pharmaceuticals remains compressed tablets. The oral solid dose (OSD) market is estimated to reach $926 billion by 2027, up from $493 billion in 2017, a 6.5% compound annual growth rate (1).
OSD drug delivery systems are favoured over parenteral (injection or drip) intravenous delivery methods for a plethora of reasons. It is the most preferred route, due to its advantages, such as non-invasiveness, patient compliance and convenience of drug administration (2). In addition, the explosion of the nutraceuticals market, particularly in the US, means the compressed tablets market continues to experience rapid growth.
Still, the potential for growth in tablet manufacturing is high. However, several challenges and trends are threatening the profit potential. Today, pharmaceutical manufacturers are keen to evolve their production processes in order to keep pace in an increasingly competitive industry. While product quality has always been of utmost importance, difficult economic conditions and ongoing inflating drug prices are increasing consumer demand for lower-priced prescriptions. More than ever, tablet manufacturers are looking for ways to automate their production processes in order to increase productivity.
Vacuum technologies can boost productivity and quality by automating the conveying process. Additionally, choosing a vacuum technology that is energy-efficient and maintenance-free can help tablet manufacturers to reduce costs and meet the demands for high-quality pharmaceuticals and lower prices.
Exploring the Benefits of Pneumatic Conveying in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing
> A Safer Working Environment
Heat, dust, and noise are all workplace pollutants that compromise employee safety and the strict sanitation requirements for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and chemicals. With the installation of pneumatic conveying equipment which moves dry powder products through specialised pipe systems, tablet manufacturers can significantly reduce manual labour and exposure to environmental irritants. These systems completely enclose the powders, reducing heat, production and minimising dust.
Reducing manual labor through pneumatic conveying can also improve working conditions by reducing heavy lifting. In addition, American manufacturers must abide by Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) regulations enforced by the U.S. Dept. of Occupational Safety & Health Administration. In Europe, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofounda) oversees the improvement of industrial working conditions.
> Increased Uptime
Automation technologies must be reliable given the continuous production runs in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Stoppages in the line or ongoing maintenance are not an option. Additionally, changeovers can also increase costs and downtime. A vacuum conveyor must facilitate changeover or risk negating the gains realised through automation.
Simple solutions can successfully stop the erosion of productivity caused by line stoppages, maintenance, or changeover. Vacuum technologies with fewer moving parts are not only safer; but they can also decrease downtime because they require no maintenance. Conveyors that are easily handled by workers are more quickly assembled and disassembled, reducing the time it takes for equipment adjustments between batches and during cleanings. Machines containing fewer components also help minimize part mix-ups and help to prevent line stoppages.
> Cost-effective, easy cleaning
In addition to attempting to reduce changeover time, tablet manufacturers must also avoid cross-contamination of the product. A vacuum conveyor, which is easily disassembled for quick cleanup, is a cost-efficient way of preventing cross-contamination.
> Reduced energy consumption
With the ever increasing costs in energy prices, the reduction of energy usage is a strategic step to cut expenses from pharmaceutical manufacturing operations. Decreasing energy consumption also has the added benefit of being good for a manufacturers environmental and sustainability efforts.
Pneumatic conveying systems powered by decentralized vacuum technologies are more energy-efficient than their centralised counterparts. While a centralised vacuum system puts more distance between the source of the power and the point of use, a decentralised vacuum system uses multi-stage ejector technology to apply the vacuum where needed. This way, no additional energy is expended to compensate for the extra distance.
> Optimized automation
Automating the tablet-handling process offers many advantages and conveniences to pharmaceutical manufacturers, such as increasing productivity and reducing the chances of operator injury.
> Prevent segregation
Segregation, the process of separating particles before compressing them into tablets, has the potential to compromise batch uniformity and drug dose accuracy. Gravity, particle properties, as well as external effects like airflow and vibration, can all lead to segregation during tablet manufacture. When vacuum conveying is employed, the risk of segregation can be reduced by handling the material slowly and gently to ensure the materials remain blended.
> Prevent tablet breakage
Tablets can also break due to the pressures of friction and shock during or after the manufacturing process. A broken tablet can become contaminated, rendering it useless. Therefore, product waste can build up and result in production delays. Tablet producers can use an accommodating vacuum conveying technology to reduce breakage. In order to be able to adjust the feed rate based on the size or volume of the tablets being handled, the conveying system must first have an adjustable feed rate. Additionally, the tubing, pipe, and coupling requirements for the vacuum conveyor can be constructed to reduce speed and prevent product damage. To prevent tablet breaking, the tubing and piping should have soft curves.
In conclusion, pneumatic conveying can play a key role in streamlining tablet production. By taking the correct precautions in installing a reliable, efficient vacuum conveying system, manufacturers can increase their productivity, reduce energy usage, whilst also improving their working environment. As companies harness vacuum technology to advance tablet production, more efficient conveying systems will translate into cost savings, helping tablet manufacturers stay competitive by enabling them to produce more affordable prescriptions.
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