Preventing Sticking and Picking in Tablet Compression: Insights from the IQ Consortium Review

Preventing Sticking and Picking in Tablet Compression: Insights from the IQ Consortium Review
sticking tablets

The process of tablet compression, while fundamental to pharmaceutical manufacturing, presents several challenges, most notably sticking and picking. These issues can compromise the integrity of the final product, leading to inefficiencies in production and potential quality control problems. In this review, we glean insights from the IQ Consortium, a global network of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, to understand the root causes of these problems and explore potential solutions. Our focus will be on identifying modifications in formulation and process parameters that could significantly reduce instances of sticking and picking, ultimately ensuring a smoother, more efficient manufacturing process and a superior end product.

What is tablet compression and why is sticking and picking an issue?

What is tablet compression and why is sticking and picking an issue?

Understanding tablet compression process

Tablet compression is a mechanical process whereby granulated material is pressed into a compact, rigid form – the tablet. This is achieved via the use of a tablet press machine, which uses punches and dies to compress the material. The process begins by feeding the powder blend into the machine. The blend then fills a die, and a punch descends to compact the powder into a tablet. Upon reaching the required compression force, the punch retracts, and the tablet is ejected.

Sticking and picking pose significant challenges in tablet compression. Sticking refers to the adhesion of the tablet material to the punch faces, leaving behind deposits and causing defects in subsequent tablets. Picking, on the other hand, involves particles being pulled out from the tablet’s surface, leading to the formation of pits. Both issues can lead to an interruption of the production process, additional costs for cleanup and maintenance, and a decline in the quality of the final tablets. Hence, effective strategies for preventing sticking and picking are crucial in optimizing tablet manufacturing.

Rising to the Challenges of Sticking and Picking

Sticking and picking in tablet compression are intricate problems, largely resulting from a complex interplay of factors. These include the material’s properties, equipment design, and environmental conditions during production. A key challenge is the formulation itself; certain active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and excipients have a propensity to stick or pick owing to their inherent physical and chemical properties.

The design of the tablet press machine and its components also plays a pivotal role. If the punches and dies are not maintained appropriately, or if their design is not compatible with the tablet formulation, the likelihood of sticking and picking increases. In addition, environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity can exacerbate these issues, making them harder to predict and control.

Despite the complexity of these challenges, they need to be addressed head-on. Unresolved sticking and picking issues not only disrupt production but can also impinge on the quality of the final product, affecting its efficacy and safety. The pharmaceutical industry, therefore, has a vested interest in finding effective solutions to these problems, with potential benefits ranging from improved product quality to increased manufacturing efficiency and cost savings.

An overview of the IQ Consortium Review

The International Consortium for Quality Research (IQ Consortium) presented a comprehensive review of the sticking and picking issue in tablet manufacturing. The review details the fundamental causes of these problems, the impact on product quality and manufacturing efficiency, and potential mitigation strategies. It emphasizes the need for comprehensive understanding of material properties and equipment design to effectively tackle these challenges. Moreover, the review advocates for the use of predictive modeling to anticipate and counteract sticking and picking issues before they occur. This approach, combining in-depth scientific understanding with advanced predictive technologies, signifies a paradigm shift in tackling this age-old problem in tablet manufacturing. The IQ Consortium’s review is a significant stride towards overcoming sticking and picking issues, promising enhanced product quality, optimized production processes, and substantial cost savings for pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The impact of sticking and picking on tablet quality

Sticking and picking problems during tablet production can have detrimental effects on the final product quality. When sticking occurs, formulation adheres to the punch faces, leading to incomplete or malformed tablets. Similarly, picking, which involves material being pulled away from the tablet’s surface, results in aesthetic defects and compromises the uniformity of dosage. Both issues can lead to a significant proportion of produced tablets failing to meet the rigorous quality standards set by regulatory bodies. Beyond affecting the physical properties of the tablets, such as hardness and disintegration time, these issues can also impact the bioavailability of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), potentially reducing the therapeutic efficacy of the product. Therefore, mitigating sticking and picking issues is not just about enhancing manufacturing efficiency, but also about ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the pharmaceutical products that reach the patients.

Common formulation factors contributing to sticking and picking

There are several formulation factors that contribute to sticking and picking in tablet manufacturing. First, the inherent properties of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), such as its particle size, shape, and moisture content, can significantly influence the tendency towards these issues. For instance, APIs with high moisture content or irregular particle shapes might exhibit increased sticking potential. Second, the choice of excipients, substances added to the formulation to facilitate processing and enhance stability, is crucial. Certain excipients, particularly those with adhesive properties like lactose or microcrystalline cellulose, may promote sticking and picking. Third, the amount and type of lubricant used also play a significant role. While lubricants are necessary to reduce friction during the tablet compression process, an excess amount or improper choice can lead to formulation adherence to the punch faces, thereby causing sticking. In addition, factors like the compression force used, the speed of the tablet press, and the temperature and humidity conditions during manufacturing also have a bearing on these issues. Thus, a holistic understanding of these factors is imperative to optimize the formulation and process parameters, minimize sticking and picking issues, and ensure the production of high-quality tablets.

How can tablet formulation reduce sticking and picking issues?

How can tablet formulation reduce sticking and picking issues?

Choosing the right excipients

In the process of formulating tablets, the selection of appropriate excipients can significantly mitigate sticking and picking issues. Excipients should be chosen not only for their compatibility with the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), but also for their physical properties. Those with smooth particle shapes and low moisture content are less likely to promote sticking. In addition, excipients with anti-adhesive properties, such as certain types of magnesium stearate, can be incorporated to further reduce the potential for sticking. Conversely, excipients known to have adhesive properties, like lactose or microcrystalline cellulose, should be used judiciously and in as minimal quantities as possible. It is also vital to consider the interplay between different excipients, as some combinations may enhance or alleviate sticking tendencies. Therefore, a clear understanding and intelligent selection of excipients can substantially improve the quality of tablet production by minimizing sticking and picking issues.

Optimizing tablet formulation variables

In addition to careful selection of excipients, the optimization of certain formulation variables further curtails sticking and picking issues. Granule size and particle distribution play critical roles in reducing the sticking tendency. Fine granules have a larger surface area, which can increase the chance of sticking. Therefore, maintaining a uniform and optimal granule size can reduce this risk. The amount and type of binder used can also impact the sticking behavior. Certain binders, while necessary for imparting strength to the tablets, can enhance the sticking propensity if used excessively. Hence, binder optimization is pivotal. Furthermore, the tablet hardness and porosity should be controlled within optimal levels. Overly hard tablets may prompt sticking due to increased contact time with the punch face, while high porosity can lead to picking. Therefore, control of these variables and strategic reformulation can yield tablets with reduced sticking and picking issues, resulting in improved tablet quality and productivity.

The role of lubricants in mitigating sticking

Lubricants play a significant role in minimizing sticking issues in tablet production. These substances work by forming a thin layer between the tablet surface and the die wall, decreasing friction and thereby reducing the tendency for material to adhere to the punch faces. Magnesium stearate is a commonly used lubricant, known for its anti-adhesive properties. However, its use must be carefully optimized; while an insufficient amount may not adequately mitigate sticking, an excess can negatively impact tablet hardness and disintegration time. Other lubricants, such as stearic acid and sodium stearyl fumarate, may also be considered, each with its own benefits and considerations. Thus, the judicious selection and optimization of lubricant type and quantity is crucial to effectively mitigate sticking and picking issues, contributing significantly to the overall quality and efficiency of tablet production.

The effect of tablet shape and weight on sticking propensity

The shape and weight of tablets also influence sticking potential significantly. Tablets with complex shapes, sharp edges, or intricate details on their surface exhibit a greater tendency for sticking due to increased contact area with the punch face. Conversely, tablets with simple, rounded geometries tend to have lesser sticking issues. Additionally, a tablet’s weight is directly related to its size and the compression force applied during manufacture. The higher the compression force, the more likely it is for material to adhere to the punch faces, leading to sticking. Lower weight tablets, which require less compression force, thus inherently have a lower propensity for sticking. Therefore, when formulating a tablet, it is important to balance aesthetic appeal with practical considerations for manufacturing, aiming for a tablet design that minimizes sticking while still meeting the desired specifications for size, shape, and weight.

Examining the granulation process and its impact on sticking

The granulation process, a vital step in tablet manufacture, can significantly influence the sticking propensity of the final product. This process involves the agglomeration of particles to form larger, more cohesive granules which can be compressed into tablets. Two methods predominantly used are wet granulation and dry granulation. Wet granulation involves the addition of a liquid binder to the powder blend, promoting particle adhesion. While it can improve flow and compaction properties, improper drying can lead to a moist granulate, increasing the sticking tendency. On the other hand, dry granulation, typically preferred for moisture-sensitive or heat-sensitive formulations, involves the use of pressure to form compacts or slugs. This method, while reducing the risk of moisture-induced sticking, can lead to increased frictional forces between the tablet and punch faces, potentially heightening sticking issues. Therefore, careful optimization of the granulation process is paramount, striking a balance between granule properties and processing conditions to minimize sticking issues and ensure high-quality tablet production.

What can be done during tablet press operation to prevent sticking and picking?

What can be done during tablet press operation to prevent sticking and picking?

The Importance of Tablet Press Maintenance and Adjusting Compression Force

Maintaining your tablet press in optimal condition is crucial in preventing sticking and picking. Regular inspection and thorough cleaning of punch and die surfaces, along with ensuring the smooth operation of all mechanical parts, go a long way in preventing potential issues. Furthermore, adjusting the compression force is another effective strategy to mitigate sticking. Overly high compression forces can lead to increased friction and subsequently sticking issues. Striking a balance between sufficient tablet hardness and minimal compression force is vital.

Optimizing Dwell Time and Tablet Press Speed

Dwell time — the period when the tablet remains under compression — is another significant factor influencing sticking. Longer dwell times could enhance tablet quality but may potentially increase sticking. Hence, optimizing the balance between dwell time and tablet press speed is crucial. A slower tablet press speed allows for longer dwell time without increasing the risk of sticking.

Utilizing Specialized Tablet Press Tools and Coating Techniques

Specialized tablet press tools, such as anti-stick punches, can play a significant role in mitigating sticking issues. These custom-designed tools have a smooth surface finish and unique profiles that minimize tablet-to-punch face contact, thus reducing sticking. Finally, using tablet coating techniques can also help prevent sticking. Various coatings, like hydrophobic or lubricious coatings, can provide a physical barrier between the tablet surface and the punch face, significantly reducing the potential for sticking and picking.

How can pharmaceutical manufacturers address sticking and picking issues?

How can pharmaceutical manufacturers address sticking and picking issues?

Identifying the Root Cause of Sticking and Picking

Root cause analysis is an essential first step in addressing sticking and picking issues in tablet manufacture. It involves a comprehensive evaluation of the entire production process — from the properties of the raw materials to the conditions in the granulation, blending, compression, and coating stages. By identifying specific factors contributing to sticking and picking, manufacturers can develop targeted solutions.

Implementing Process Improvements to Prevent Sticking

Once the root cause is identified, the next step is to implement process improvements. This could involve adjusting the moisture content of the granules, modifying the blend properties, or fine-tuning the compression parameters. Regular maintenance of the tablet press and use of optimized tooling designs can also help prevent sticking.

Utilizing Tablet Surface Modification Techniques

Tablet surface modification techniques, such as applying coatings or using embossing, can effectively reduce sticking. These modifications create a physical barrier between the tablet surface and the punch face, preventing direct contact and thus reducing sticking.

Addressing Picking Issues during Tablet Manufacturing

Picking issues during tablet manufacturing can be addressed by optimizing the tablet formulation and the manufacturing process. For example, using excipients with good compressibility and flowability, maintaining an optimal granulation process, and ensuring adequate lubrication can help prevent picking.

Applying Insights from the IQ Consortium Review to Reduce Sticking

Insights from the IQ Consortium Review can provide valuable guidance for addressing sticking issues. The review emphasizes the importance of understanding material properties, optimizing tablet design and manufacturing process parameters, and using appropriate tooling and equipment. By applying these insights, pharmaceutical manufacturers can substantially reduce sticking and enhance tablet quality.


Proactive measures in preventing sticking and picking in tablet manufacturing are of paramount importance. By investing time and resources into optimizing tablet formulation, process parameters, and equipment, manufacturers can significantly reduce the occurrence of these issues. The impact of such reductions on tablet quality cannot be overstated. High-quality tablets not only meet regulatory standards but also increase patient trust and satisfaction.

Continued research and collaboration within the industry are essential for tackling sticking and picking issues effectively. Sharing insights and best practices can lead to breakthroughs in tablet manufacturing technologies, further enhancing product quality and manufacturing efficiency. Therefore, the industry should continue to encourage such collaborative efforts, fostering innovation and driving excellence in tablet production.


  1. Patel, S., & Kaushal, A. (2012). Issues in tablet manufacturing: a review. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, 3(2), 376-387.
  2. The IQ Consortium. (2018). Addressing Sticking and Picking Issues in Tablet Manufacturing. Retrieved from
  3. Singh, R., Saharan, V., & Singh, B. (2015). Recent advancement of the techniques to prevent sticking during tablet compression: an overview. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, 5(12), 98-106.
  4. Shangraw, R. F., Wallace, J. W., & Bowers, F. M. (1988). Morphology and functionality in tablet excipients for direct compression. Pharmaceutical Technology, 12, 64-74.
  5. Sun, C. C. (2013). Understanding the material properties of commonly used excipients in tablet formulation. In Pharmaceutical Sciences Encyclopedia (pp. 1-28). John Wiley & Sons.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is the topic of this FAQ?

A: The topic of this FAQ is “Preventing Sticking and Picking in Tablet Compression: Insights from the IQ Consortium Review”.

Q: What is tablet sticking?

A: Tablet sticking refers to the phenomenon where tablets become attached or adhere to the punch face during the tableting process.

Q: What are some common terms related to tablet sticking?

A: Some common terms related to tablet sticking include tableting, tablet weight, tablet punch, sticking problem, sticking is one, ibuprofen, compression tooling, bulk density, tablet tooling, rotary tablet press, sticking to the punch face, sticking index, tablet manufacturing process, tablet manufacturers, adhesion in tablet, potential sticking, tableting process, powder properties, note that tablets, make tablets, formulation and the punch, help reduce sticking, picking is a specific type, specific type of sticking, prone to sticking, tablet making, atomic force microscopy, one of the most common, shown in figure, sticking without, stop sticking, experienced tablet, used in order.

Q: How can sticking in tablet compression be prevented?

A: Sticking in tablet compression can be prevented by optimizing the formulation and the punch design, controlling the powder properties, and using appropriate tablet tooling. It is also important to maintain proper lubrication and keep the tablet press clean.

Q: What is tablet picking?

A: Picking is a specific type of sticking where a portion of the tablet is removed from the main body, resulting in a rough or uneven tablet surface.

Q: Why are tablets prone to sticking and picking?

A: Tablets are prone to sticking and picking due to factors such as high tablet weight, low bulk density of the formulation, poor lubrication, inadequate or excessive compression force, and inadequate tooling design.

Q: What are some tips to reduce sticking and picking in tablet compression?

A: Some tips to reduce sticking and picking in tablet compression include optimizing the formulation and the punch design, using appropriate tablet tooling, applying proper lubrication, controlling the powder properties, and ensuring proper cleaning and maintenance of the tablet press.

Q: Can atomic force microscopy be used to analyze sticking and picking?

A: Yes, atomic force microscopy can be used to analyze sticking and picking by providing detailed surface morphology and adhesion information about the tablets.

Q: Is sticking and picking a common problem in tablet manufacturing?

A: Yes, sticking and picking is one of the most common problems encountered in tablet manufacturing.

Q: What are some potential consequences of sticking and picking in tablet compression?

A: Some potential consequences of sticking and picking in tablet compression include tablet weight variation, reduced tablet hardness, increased tablet friability, and compromised tablet appearance and quality.

Q: Can tablet sticking and picking be completely eliminated?

A: While it may not be possible to completely eliminate tablet sticking and picking, proper formulation design and process optimization can significantly reduce the occurrence of these issues.

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