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Sticking and picking in tablet design, part 1
Q: What factors should we consider to eliminate sticking and picking in tablet production?
A: Kevin Queensen, Natoli Engineering, says:
imageSticking and picking issues are often not detected until a drug product transfers from R&D to production. With sticking being a common problem for tablet manufacturers, you should anticipate solutions to it before you finalize your tablet design, prior to scale-up and full-scale production.
Sticking and/or picking occurs when granules or particles from the formulation attach to a punch cup face, resulting in defective tablets. Picking is a specific type of sticking that refers to material sticking to the faces of the compression tooling due to the use of embossed designs, such as the letters or numerals of a tablet logo or identifier.
Sticking and picking causes
Although deficiencies in tablet design are frequently the cause of sticking and picking, remediation doesn't always require changing the design, and thus, the tooling used to manufacture the tablets.
Humidity. When powder sticks in the punch cup or embossed characters, first check the formulation's moisture level. Excessive formulation moisture or humidity in the compression suite can initiate sticking or picking.
Inadequate compression force. Inadequate force is also a potential source of sticking or picking. When the formulation's compaction isn't complete, the punch's adhesive forces are stronger than the cohesive forces of the inadequately compressed tablet.
Insufficient lubrication. An insufficient amount of lubricant in the formulation can also cause sticking and picking. Increasing the lubricant can allow the compressed tablet to release more easily from the punch cup surface.
Inspection. Careful inspection of the punch cups is also essential to ensure they have no surface scratches that can capture small particles of formulation. Scratches can also lead to filming, which is an initial slow form of sticking often caused by excessive fines or moisture in the granulation. Polish any scratches in the punch surfaces. Additionally, you can use a specialized polishing compound to impart greater lubricity and improve tablet release.
Tablet redesign
When simple or environmental fixes aren't enough, a full tablet-design review may be necessary. Tablet design plays a pivotal role in product quality and output, although it's often overlooked. Typically, a pharmaceutical company's marketing department pushes for certain tablet shapes and logos, with the end goal of promoting brand recognition. However, those designs might not be optimal for manufacturing quality tablets. Compression tooling suppliers, who are often highly experienced tablet-design experts, can identify potential sticking and picking issues before you have finalized a tablet's design, reducing production challenges.
Tablet design is a critical factor in the successful production of viable tablets. In part 2 of this series, I will explore different considerations during the tablet-design process that can reduce the likelihood of sticking and picking.

Kevin Queensen is a mechanical engineer, technical service support, tooling and tablets at Natoli Engineering, St. Charles, MO. The company manufactures tablet press replacement parts, tablet compression tooling, and tablet presses and offers the largest selection of tablet compression accessories in the industry. For more information, contact the company.
July 22, 2019
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