Impact of fill-level in twin-screw granulation on critical quality attributes of granules and tablets
In a previous study a change of the fill-level in the barrel exerted a huge influence on the twin-screw granulation (TSG) process of a high drug loaded, simplified formulation. The present work investigated this influence systematically. The specific feed load (SFL) indicating the mass per revolution as surrogate parameter for the fill-level was applied and the correlation to the real volumetric fill level of an extruder could be demonstrated by a newly developed method. A design of experiments was conducted to examine the combined influence of SFL and screw speed on the process and on critical quality attributes of granules and tablets. The same formulation was granulated at constant liquid level with the same screw configuration and led to distinctively different results by only changing the fill-level and the screw speed. The power consumption of the extruder increased at higher SFLs with hardly any influence of screw speed. At low SFL the median residence time was mainly fill-level dependent and at higher SFL mainly screw speed dependent. Optimal values for the product characteristics were found at medium values for the SFL. Granule size distributions shifted from mono-modal and narrow shape to broader and even bimodal distributions of larger median granule sizes, when exceeding or falling below a certain fill-level. Deviating from the optimum fill-level, tensile strength of tablets decreased by about 25% and disintegration times of tablets increased for more than one third. At low fill-levels, material accumulation in front of the kneading zone was detected by pressure measurements and was assumed to be responsible for the unfavored product performance. At high fill-levels, granule consolidation due to higher propensity of contact with the result of higher material temperature was accounted for inferior product performance. The fill-level was found to be an important factor in assessment and development of twin-screw granulation processes as it impacted process and product attributes enormously.