The objective of this study was three-fold; to investigate the different mechanisms of material exchange during the equilibrium phase of the granulation process and whether these mechanisms are consistent with the mechanisms described in the growth regime map, to study how material properties and process conditions affect these exchange mechanisms, and to correlate Stokes deformation number to the exchange mechanisms.
Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), α-lactose, microfine cellulose (MFC), and dextrin were granulated using water as a binding agent. Once in the equilibrium phase, 5% (w/w) of the granular mass was replaced with wet tracer granules, after which the granulation process was continued. Granules were typically of a size of approximately 1 mm in diameter. Therefore, these granules can also be called pellets.
Tracer experiments show indeed solid material exchange can take place in the equilibrium phase of the high shear granulation process. Tracer material was equally dispersed throughout the whole batch for all materials tested. However, the granulation time needed to reach this homogeneous distribution varied with material and granulation conditions. Three different mechanisms of material exchange were identified: exchange by disintegration, where granules are rapidly crushed and formed to granules again; exchange by deformation, where abraded granule fragments immediately fuse with other granules; and exchange by distribution, where there is a prolonged period over which both tracer and standard granules stay intact, followed by uncontrolled growth and exchange of material. It was found that it is possible to shift between the mechanisms by changing the process conditions, e.g., changing viscosity or amount of binder liquid. These observations indicate that by choosing the appropriate process conditions improved distribution of small amounts of insoluble materials in the granules can be obtained.
A relation exists between the exchange mechanisms and the growth regime map: the disintegration mechanism resembles ‘crumb behaviour’, the deformation mechanism resembles ‘steady growth’, and the distribution mechanism resembles ‘nucleation’ and ‘induction growth’. Unfortunately, Stokes deformation number cannot be used as a predictive tool when low viscosity binders like water are used, due to the importance of viscosity in the equation. However, this number is one of the variables of the growth regime map. Since the exchange mechanisms correspond to the granule growth mechanisms in the regime map, alternatively colour experiments might be used to reveal the granulation regime.