Tablet compaction simulator
Tablet formulations are designed and tested using a laboratory machine called a Tablet Compaction Simulator or Powder Compaction Simulator. This is a computer controlled device that can measure the punch positions, punch pressures, friction forces, die wall pressures, and sometimes the tablet internal temperature during the compaction event. Numerous experiments with small quantities of different mixtures can be performed to optimise a formulation. Mathematically corrected punch motions can be programmed to simulate any type and model of production tablet press. Initial quantities of active pharmaceutical ingredients are very expensive to produce, and using a Compaction Simulator reduces the amount of powder required for product development.
Tablet presses, also called tableting machines, range from small, inexpensive bench-top models that make one tablet at a time (single-station presses), with only around a half-ton pressure, to large, computerized, industrial models (multi-station rotary presses) that can make hundreds of thousands to millions of tablets an hour with much greater pressure. The tablet press is an essential piece of machinery for any pharmaceutical and nutraceutical manufacturer. Common manufacturers of tablet presses include Fette, Korsch, Kikusui, Manesty, IMA and Courtoy.
Tablet presses must allow the operator to adjust the position of the lower and upper punches accurately, so that the tablet weight, thickness and density can each be controlled. This is achieved using a series of cams, rollers, and/or tracks that act on the tablet tooling (punches). Mechanical systems are also incorporated for die filling, and for ejecting and removing the tablets from the press after compression. Pharmaceutical tablet presses are required to be easy to clean and quick to reconfigure with different tooling, because they are usually used to manufacture many different products.
Many tablets today are coated after being pressed. Although sugar-coating was popular in the past, the process has many drawbacks. Modern tablet coatings are polymer and polysaccharide based, with plasticizers and pigments included. Tablet coatings must be stable and strong enough to survive the handling of the tablet, must not make tablets stick together during the coating process, and must follow the fine contours of embossed characters or logos on tablets. Coatings are necessary for tablets that have an unpleasant taste, and a smoother finish makes large tablets easier to swallow. Tablet coatings are also useful to extend the shelf-life of components that are sensitive to moisture or oxidation. Special coatings (for example with pearlescent effects) can enhance brand recognition.
If the active ingredient of a tablet is sensitive to acid, or is irritant to the stomach lining, an enteric coating can be used, which is resistant to stomach acid, and dissolves in the less acidic area of the intestines. Enteric coatings are also used for medicines that can be negatively affected by taking a long time to reach the small intestine, where they are absorbed. Coatings are often chosen to control the rate of dissolution of the drug in the gastrointestinal tract. Some drugs will be absorbed better at different points in the digestive system. If the highest percentage of absorption of a drug takes place in the stomach, a coating that dissolves quickly and easily in acid will be selected. If the rate of absorption is best in the large intestine or colon, then a coating that is acid resistant and dissolves slowly would be used to ensure it reached that point before dispersing.
It is sometimes necessary to split tablets into halves or quarters. Tablets are easier to break accurately if scored, but there are devices called pill-splitters which cut unscored and scored tablets. Tablets with special coatings (for example enteric coatings or controlled-release coatings) should not be broken before use, as this will expose the tablet core to the digestive juices, short-circuiting the intended delayed-release effect.