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home > pmps > spring 2015 > the science of tablet tooling
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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

The Science of Tablet Tooling

PMPS: Describe an average day for you.

Rob Blanchard:
I have two roles at I Holland: Research and Development Manager, and Quality Systems Manager. My day can be made up of different tasks based on either of these responsibilities. First thing in the morning, I usually start by checking on the Quality Technician’s workload and making sure we have a clear plan of action for the week, including the internal and external auditing schedules and any other quality management system-related tasks. Once this is done, I meet with the research team and check on the status of ongoing projects. After these management tasks are complete, I will respond to emails – customer support is a key part of product development, as this helps me understand the everchanging requirements of our clients.

As one of the technical managers within the business, I also work with the Product Improvement Group – we meet at least once a month to discuss progress on a range of continuous improvement projects we might be running at that time. These meetings have been instrumental in helping I Holland evolve and improve its products and processes.

In the afternoon, I would normally review any orders that require signing off from a technical point of view, and then spend the rest of the day carrying out numerous tasks linked to R&D projects. My job involves setting up and managing our external academic partnerships, so I am often in project meetings with local universities.

Which part of your role do you most enjoy?

I am technology-led, so anything innovative always gets my attention. The continuous development of the company’s steels and coatings ranges over the last 11 years, in addition to its 7-Step Process and associated equipment, has been extremely rewarding.

The nutraceutical market is currently enjoying growth year on year. Has this trend had any direct impact on your business?

Absolutely. We have seen a large increase in the number of tool sets supplied to this market for numerous nutraceutical applications.

What do you see as the specific challenges of nutraceutical tablet manufacture?

Abrasion can be a major problem in tablet manufacture, particularly when compressing some nutraceutical formulations. These products can contain high quantities of hard, abrasive, sharp-edged minerals that, when repeatedly compressed, can scrape away or penetrate the surface of the tool. This abrasion can lead to the erosion of punch tip detail, such as logo embossing and other identification.

Eventually, this wear can lead to weight variation, sticking and other issues resulting in the scrapping of the punch. With this in mind, I Holland has carried out its Tabletting Science Anti-Stick Research (TSAR) project, which has been instrumental in identifying the correct anti-stick tooling coating solution first time.

Do you find pharma production to be significantly different to that of nutraceuticals?

The very abrasive nature of the formulations typically used within the nutraceutical sector, combined with the highly competitively priced end-products, mean that identifying a solution is extremely challenging, but we thrive on that.

What are the latest technological developments in tablet tooling, and how can they assist in overcoming these obstacles?

We have a range of different steels, such as Holland PharmaGrade Premium (HPG-P), which is more wear-resistant than our Holland PharmaGrade Standard (HPG-S) steel. We have also developed a range of coatings that serve this same purpose, including our PharmaCote RS coating, which has a hardness value of over four times that of uncoated tooling. This particular product has proved very effective for nutraceutical applications.

In relation to sticking issues, we have already developed a large range of anti-stick coatings, but the recent introduction of a mathematical model (TSAR Predict) – which is capable of predicting the particle adhesion level without having to test the solution in real-time – has helped customers solve problems much quicker than before.

How can these advances benefit overall production efficiency and cost-effectiveness?

Fewer tooling changes due to reduced wear on the punch tips means that a tablet press can run for longer without any tooling swap-overs. The lower cost resulting from less tooling being ordered is also a good win. I Holland recently carried out a case study with Thompson Capper in the UK – in which a hardened coating was used to tackle a particularly abrasive product – and found that tablet output could be increased by 900% with only a 78% rise in tooling cost per set, as well as eliminating nine tooling changes. The use of the coated punch in this instance had a very positive impact on the customer’s productivity.

What else can companies do to make a difference to their output that they might not have considered?

The use of multi-tipped tooling is becoming much more prevalent these days. I regularly help clients change to this type of tooling, as the productivity gains can be massive.

Where do you see tooling technology heading over the next decade?

The use of even more innovative tablet tool coatings, combined with advanced steels, will continue to have a positive impact on efficiency. When you factor in multi-tipped tooling on top, productivity increases can be considerable.

And finally, what drives you to promote a better understanding of tableting science?

Our aim is to be the customer’s preferred choice of provider for tablet tooling and complimentary equipment, underpinned by our understanding of tableting science and characterised by excellent customer service, technical support, speed of response, quality products and value for money. These goals drive us forward to promote a better understanding of all aspects of tableting science.

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Since joining I Holland in 2003, Rob Blanchard – Research, Development and Quality Systems Manager – has been instrumental in the development of the PharmaCote® range of surface treatments and coatings for tablet compression tooling. He is part of the Eurostandard steering committee and responsible for I Holland’s registration to ISO 9001:2008. Rob also coordinates the company’s close collaboration with academic research bodies.
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