Impact of the particle size on powder behavior in a Wurster fluid-bed process


Cellets are inert starter cores made of microcrystalline cellulose (MCC). They play an important role in new formulations of solid dosage forms. As a carrier system for actives, the chemical inertness and surface smoothness are crucial parameters. Additionally, high level of robustness and sphericity simplify formulations and technical processes, such as fluidized bed technologies for coating and layering. In a joint study between the University of Hertfordshire and Freeman Technology (a Micromeritics company), the effect of pellets’ size on the behavior in a Wurster process is explained. Wurster fluid bed coating of Cellets with particle size larger than 400 µm is unproblematic. However, decreasing the particle size begins to complicate the coating process. So, powder rheology was used to compare Cellets with different particle sizes in terms of their effect on the powder flow in the Wurster fluid bed coater. For deeper knowledge, we strongly recommend reading investigations by V. Mohylyuk et al. [1]


Cellets® 90, 100, 200 and 350 (D50-size from 94 µm to 424 μm, Ingredientpharm, Switzerland). MCC powder Avicel® PH-102 (supplied by IMCD UK Ltd., UK) is included in the investigations, as it is widely used in industry and can be used by readers for comparison with other studies.

Wurster fluid-bed

Wurster process is a bottom-spray method, employed as a coating technology, for layering powder-like particles in a fluidized bed system (Figure 1). The process can be separated in different zones of mass flow, such as the down-flow zone or the horizontal transport zone. The flowability in these zones is crucial for homogeneous and efficient coating of the particles.


Figure 1: Wurster process is a bottom-spray method for layering powder-like particles in a fluidized bed system.

Hereby, the size of particles might play an important role. The narrow size distribution of MCC pellets is shown in Figure 2 and Figure 3. Measured data is presented in Table 1.


Volume weightened size distribution of Cellets 90 (red, diamonds), Cellets 100 (orange, triangles), Cellets 200 (blue, circles), Cellets 350 (green, squares).

The compact Cellets with fair sphericity, zero friability and a high level of surface smoothness show a fair mass flow rate which is almost independent of particle size at given experimental conditions and was determined by the gravitational funnel method. The reference MCC powder did not flow through the orifice.

Excipient PSD
Flow rate
Avicel PH-102 115a 1.85 No flow
Cellets 90 94b 0.44 1.76
Cellets 100 163b 0.27 2.06
Cellets 200 270b 0.34 1.89
Cellets 350 424b 0.22 1.83

Table 1: Particle size distribution (D50) value and span by laser diffraction (a) and digital microscopy (b), and the mass flow rate by gravitational funnel method (5 mm diameter orifice) for the investigated excipients.

Impact of the Cellets’ size

The impact of the Cellets’ size on bulk powder behavior can only be estimated by screening additional parameters. In addition to the mass flow rate, standard pharmacopoeia methods such as bulk/tapped density were initially employed for the characterization of the powder’s properties. This was extended to rotating drum measurements providing the dynamic angle of repose and dynamic cohesivity index. Via powder rheology the conditioned bulk density, basic flowability energy, specific energy, pressure drop, permeability and compressibility (Figure 4) were obtained [1].

By picking the compressibility of Cellets at an applied force of 10 kPa normal stress, two key points need to be mentioned: (a) smaller particle size induces a higher rate of compressibility; (b) Cellets are less compressible than the reference MCC powder.

These findings are part of the open question on powder flow in a Wurster process. It is expected, that Cellets with a lower compressibility will result in better flow behavior in the fluidized bed.


Microscopic imaging of Cellets 100 (top left), 200 (top right), 350 (bottom left) with 1 mm scale bar and 100x magnification. Bottom right: surface of Cellets 350 in 1000x magnification.


Compressibility at 10 kPa normal stress on Cellets with varying particle size (D50) and Avicel® PH-102.


The flow of Cellets’ through a Wurster fluid-bed coater is likely to show improved performance as the Cellets’ particle size increases. Among others, a lower compressibility demonstrates a rheological behavior which is superior to MCC.


[1] Mohylyuk V, Styliari ID, Novykov D, Pikett R, Dattani R. Assessment of the effect of Cellets’ particle size on the flow in a Wurster fluid-bed coater via powder rheology. J D Deliv Sci Tec. 2019; 54: 101320, doi: 10.1016/j.jddst.2019.101320.


Dr. Bastian Arlt, Glatt Pharmaceutical Services, Werner-Glatt-Straße 1, 79589 Binzen.

Cellets list of publication

Scientific literature on MCC pellets (Cellets)

Selected Scientific literature

Please, find scientific literature on Cellets. This list is constantly updated and does not claim to be complete. If you are author, scientist or R&D specialist, please submit your present publication to us for improving the visibility.


Research article
Assessment of the effect of Cellets’ particle size on the flow in a Wurster fluid-bed coater via powder rheology
Journal of Drug Delivery Science and Technology, Volume 54, December 2019, 101320
Valentyn Mohylyuk, Ioanna Danai Styliari, Dmytryi Novykov, Reiss Pikett, Rajeev Dattani

Research article
Measuring segregation characteristics of industrially relevant granular mixtures: Part II – Experimental application and validation
Powder Technology, Volume 368, 15 May 2020, Pages 278-285
Alexander M. Fry, Vidya Vidyapati, John P. Hecht, Paul B. Umbanhowar, Julio M. Ottinoa, Richard M. Lueptow

Research article
Influence of Non-Water-Soluble Placebo Pellets of Different Sizes on the Characteristics of Orally Disintegrating Tablets Manufactured by Freeze-Drying
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 102, Issue 6, June 2013, Pages 1786-1799
Ulrike Stange, Christian Führling, Henning Gieseler

Short communication
Introduction of the energy to break an avalanche as a promising parameter for powder flowability prediction
Powder Technology, Volume 375, 20 September 2020, Pages 33-41
Žofie Trpělková, Hana Hurychová, Martin Kuentz, Barbora Vraníková, Zdenka Šklubalová

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Particuology, Volume 42, February 2019, Pages 146-153
Wojciech Ludwig

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Attrition and abrasion resistance of particles coated with pre-mixed polymer coating systems
Powder Technology, Volume 230, November 2012, Pages 1-13
G. Perfetti, F. Depypere, S. Zafari, P. van Hee, W.J. Wildeboer, G. M. H. Meesters

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Dry particle high coating of biopowders: An energy approach
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S. Otles, O. Lecoq, J. A. Dodds

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Labscale fluidized bed granulator instrumented with non-invasive process monitoring devices
Chemical Engineering Journal, Volume 164, Issues 2–3, 1 November 2010, Pages 268-274
Jari T. T. Leskinen, Matti-Antero H. Okkonen, Maunu M. Toiviainen, Sami Poutiainen, Mari Tenhunen, Pekka Teppola, Reijo Lappalainen, Jarkko Ketolainen, Kristiina Järvinen

Research article
Development and evaluation of budesonide-based modified-release liquid oral dosage forms
Journal of Drug Delivery Science and Technology, Volume 54, December 2019, 101273
Federica Ronchi, Antonio Sereno, Maxime Paide, Ismaël Hennia, Pierre Sacré, George Guillaume, Vincent Stéphenne, Jonathan Goole, Karim Amighi

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Andres Lust, Satu Lakio, Julia Vintsevits, Jekaterina Kozlova, Peep Veski, Jyrki Heinämäki, Karin Kogermann

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Powder Technology, Volume 284, November 2015, Pages 25-31
D. Petrak, S. Dietrich, G. Eckardt, M. Köhler

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European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 128, 1 February 2019, Pages 162-170
Theresa Reimers, Jochen Thies, Stefan Dietrich, Julian Quodbach, Miriam Pein-Hackelbusch

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Marcel Langner, Ivonne Kitzmann, Anna-Lena Ruppert, Inken Wittich, Bertram Wolf

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European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 132, 30 April 2019, Pages 157-162
Marco Marconati, Felipe Lopez, Catherine Tuleu, Mine Orlu, Marco Ramaioli

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Advanced Powder Technology, Volume 31, Issue 12, December 2020, Pages 4699-4713
Soeren E. Lehmann, Tobias Oesau, Alfred Jongsma, Fredrik Innings, Stefan Heinrich

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Nathan Scott, Kavil Patel, Tariro Sithole, Konstantina Xenofontos, Valentyn Mohylyuk, Fang Liu

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J. Mandić, M. Luštrik, F. Vrečer, M. Gašperlin, A. Zvonar Pobirk

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Dimitri Wiegel, Günter Eckardt, Florian Priese, Bertram Wolf

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Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 109, Issue 8, August 2020, Pages 2474-2484
Simmi Patel, Nathan Scott, Kavil Patel, Valentyn Mohylyuk, William J. McAuley, Fang Liu

Research article
Effect of formulation variables on oral grittiness and preferences of multiparticulate formulations in adult volunteers
European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 92, 20 September 2016, Pages 156-162
Felipe L. Lopez, Alexandra Bowles, Mine Orlu Gul, David Clapham, Terry B. Ernest, Catherine Tuleu

Research article
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Chemical Engineering Science, Volume 66, Issue 24, 15 December 2011, Pages 6385-6392
Thanh T. Nguyen, Thanh N. Tran, Tofan A. Willemsz, Henderik W. Frijlink, Tuomas Ervasti, Jarkko Ketolainen, Kees van der Voort Maarschalk

Research article
X-ray micro tomography and image analysis as complementary methods for morphological characterization and coating thickness measurement of coated particles
Advanced Powder Technology, Volume 21, Issue 6, November 2010, Pages 663-675
Giacomo Perfetti, Elke Van de Casteele, Bernd Rieger, Willem J. Wildeboer, Gabrie M.H. Meesters

Research article
Development of high drug loaded pellets by Design of Experiment and population balance model calculation
Powder Technology, Volume 241, June 2013, Pages 149-157
Florian Priese, Bertram Wolf

Research article
Quantification of swelling characteristics of pharmaceutical particles
International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 590, 30 November 2020, 119903
Mithushan Soundaranathan, Pattavet Vivattanaseth, Erin Walsh, Kendal Pitt, Blair Johnston, Daniel Markl

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Numerical study of the hydrodynamics of fluidized beds operated under sub-atmospheric pressure
Chemical Engineering Journal, Volume 372, 15 September 2019, Pages 1134-1153
Sayali Zarekar, Andreas Bück, Michael Jacob, Evangelos Tsotsas

Research article
Granule size distribution of tablets
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 99, Issue 4, April 2010, Pages 2061-2069
Satu Virtanen, Osmo Antikainen, Heikki Räikkönen, Jouko Yliruusi

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International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 540, Issues 1–2, 5 April 2018, Pages 120-131
Josefina Nordström, Göran Alderborn, Göran Frenning

Research article
New insights into segregation during tabletting
International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 397, Issues 1–2, 15 September 2010, Pages 19-26
S. Lakio, S. Siiriä, H. Räikkönen, S. Airaksinen, T. Närvänen, O. Antikainen, J.Yliruusi

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Passive acoustic emission monitoring of pellet coat thickness in a fluidized bed
Powder Technology, Volume 286, December 2015, Pages 172-180
Taylor Sheahan, Lauren Briens

Research article
Attrition strength of different coated agglomerates
Chemical Engineering Science, Volume 63, Issue 5, March 2008, Pages 1361-1369
B. van Laarhoven, S.C.A. Wiers, S.H. Schaafsma, G.M.H. Meesters

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A New Apparatus for Real‐Time Assessment of the Particle Size Distribution of Disintegrating Tablets
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 103, Issue 11, November 2014, Pages 3657-3665
Julian Quodbach, Peter Kleinebudde

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Particle sizing measurements in pharmaceutical applications: Comparison of in-process methods versus off-line methods
European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, Volume 85, Issue 3, Part B, November 2013, Pages 1006-1018
Ana F.T. Silva, Anneleen Burggraeve, Quenten Denon, Paul Van der Meeren, Niklas Sandler, Tom Van Den Kerkhof, Mario Hellings, Chris Vervaet, Jean Paul Remon, João Almeida Lopes, Thomas De Beer

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Effects of pharmaceutical processes on the quality of ethylcellulose coated pellets: Quality by design approach
Powder Technology, Volume 339, November 2018, Pages 25-38
Prakash Thapa, Ritu Thapa, Du Hyung Choi, Seong Hoon Jeong

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Physical properties of pharmaceutical pellets
Chemical Engineering Science, Volume 86, 4 February 2013, Pages 50-60
Rok Šibanc, Teja Kitak, Biljana Govedarica, StankoSrčič Rok Dreu

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Determination of the release mechanism of Theophylline from pellets coated with Surelease®—A water dispersion of ethyl cellulose
International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 528, Issues 1–2, 7 August 2017, Pages 345-353
Jurgita Kazlauske, Maria Margherita Cafaro, Diego Caccavo, Mariagrazia Marucci, Gaetano Lamberti, Anna Angela Barba, Anette Larsson

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Wojciech Ludwig, PaweƚPłuszka

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International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 499, Issues 1–2, 29 February 2016, Pages 271-279
Eva Julia Laukamp, Klaus Knop, Markus Thommes, Joerg Breitkreutz

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A density-based segmentation for 3D images, an application for X-ray micro-tomography
Analytica Chimica Acta, Volume 725, 6 May 2012, Pages 14-21
Thanh N. Tran, Thanh T. Nguyen, Tofan A. Willemsz, Gijsvan Kessel, Henderik W. Frijlink, Kees van der Voort Maarschalk

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Continuous pellet coating in a Wurster fluidized bed process
Chemical Engineering Science, Volume 86, 4 February 2013, Pages 87-98
N. Hampel, A. Bück, M. Peglow, E. Tsotsas

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Powder Technology, Volume 356, November 2019, Pages 139-147
Swantje Pietsch, Anna Peter, Patrick Wahl, Johannes Khinast, Stefan Heinrich

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Powder Technology, Volume 366, 15 April 2020, Pages 348-357
Maria H. Kastvig, Cosima Hirschberg, Frans W.J. Van Den Berg, Jukka Rantanen, Mogens L. Andersen

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Euler-Lagrange model of particles circulation in a spout-fluid bed apparatus for dry coating
Powder Technology, Volume 328, 1 April 2018, Pages 375-388
Wojciech Ludwig, Paweł Płuszka

Research article
Direct Drug Loading into Preformed Porous Solid Dosage Units by the Controlled Particle Deposition (CPD), a New Concept for Improved Dissolution Using SCF-Technology
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 97, Issue 10, October 2008, Pages 4416-4424
Ragna S. Wischumerski, Michael Türk, Martin A. Wahl

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B.M. Woerthmann, J.A. Lindner, T. Kovacevic, P. Pergam, F. Schmid, H. Briesen

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New spout-fluid bed apparatus for electrostatic coating of fine particles and encapsulation
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Roman G. Szafran, Wojciech Ludwig, Andrzej Kmiec

Research article
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Chon gFan, Rashmi Pai-Thakur, Wantanee Phuapradit, Lin Zhang, Hung Tian, Waseem Malick, Navnit Shah, M. Serpil Kislalioglu

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International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 549, Issues 1–2, 5 October 2018, Pages 293-298
Allan Carter, Lauren Briens

Research article
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Krisztina Nikowitz, Attila Domján, Klára Pintye-Hódi, Géza Regdon jr.

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Frederick Osei-Yeboah, Changquan Calvin Sun

Research article
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Nathalie Huyghebaert, An Vermeire, Sabine Neirynck, Lothar Steidler, Eric Remaut, Jean Paul Remon

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Research article
In-line monitoring of multi-layered film-coating on pellets using Raman spectroscopy by MCR and PLS analyses
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Jin Hisazumi, Peter Kleinebudde

Short communication
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Powder Technology, Volume 331, 15 May 2018, Pages 60-67
Mariagrazia Marucci, Banien Al-Saaigh, Catherine Boissier, Marie Wahlgren, Håkan Wikström

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Multiple unit mini-tablets: Content uniformity issues
International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 536, Issue 2, 5 February 2018, Pages 506-507
Anna Kira Adam, Jörg Breitkreutz

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Krisztina Nikowitz, Klára Pintye-Hódi, Géza Regdon Jr.

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Optimisation of an enteric coated, layered multi-particulate formulation for ileal delivery of viable recombinant Lactococcus lactis
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Nele Poelvoorde, Nathalie Huyghebaert, Chris Vervaet, Jean-Paul Remon

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International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 533, Issue 2, 30 November 2017, Pages 377-382
Rok Šibanc, Matevž Luštrik, Rok Dreu

Conference abstract
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International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Volume 511, Issue 2, 25 September 2016, Page 1128
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Ann-Sofie Persson, Göran Frenning

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Nathalie Huyghebaert, An Vermeire, Pieter Rottiers, Erik Remaut, Jean Paul Remon

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Federica Ronchi, Antonio, Sereno, Maxime Paide, Pierre Sacré, George Guillaume, Vincent Stéphenne, Jonathan Goole, Karim Amighi

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Heidi Lankes, Karl Sommer, Bernd Weinreich

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Tim Chan Seem, Neil A. Rowson, Ian Gabbott, Marcelde Matas, Gavin K. Reynolds, AndyIngram

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Ulrich M. Heckötter, Anette Larsson, Pornsak Sriamornsak, Mont Kumpugdee-Vollrath

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Wojciech Ludwig, Daniel Zając

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M.G. Müller, J.A. Lindner, H. Briesen, K. Sommer, P. Foerst

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Matevž Luštrik, Rok Šibanc, Stanko Srčič, Matjaž Perpar, Iztok Žun, Rok Dreu

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Matteo Cerea, Anastasia Foppoli, Luca Palugan, Alic Melocchi, Lucia Zema, Alessandra Maroni, Andrea Gazzaniga

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Anna Novikova, Jens M. Carstensen, Thomas Rades, Claudia S. Leopold

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Sheng-Feng Hung, Chien-Ming Hsieh, Ying-Chen Chen, Cheng-Mao Lin, Hsiu-O Ho, Ming-Thau Sheu

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The path to the perfect sphere

The renaissance of micropellets is promoting innovative technologies

In recent years, formulations based on pellets and micropellets have been the trend. New technologies make it possible to circumvent property rights for active ingredients and are therefore very popular with pharmaceutical customers. But which technologies are the most important?

Pellets are the jack-of-alltrades of solid dosage forms. Positioned somewhere between powder and granulate, they make bitter medicine more palatable and can even awaken a child’s instinct to play when the dosage forms are imaginative enough. One well-known example is the Xstraw, a plastic tube shaped like a drinking straw which is filled with pellets of active ingredient, through which children or elderly people can take in the medicine with water. Pellets in tablets are also making a splash – hybrids which combine all the advantages of both dosage forms. The pioneers in the development of these formulations, known as Multiple Unit Pellet Systems (or MUPS for short), was Astra Zeneca in 1999. Their move to embed the proton pump inhibitor Omeprazole in micropellets and then compress these pellets into immediate release tablets was an award-winning one at the time. The development of MUPS and Xstraw symbolizes the impetus pellets have fueled in recent years.

Klaus N. Möller, Head of Business Development at Glatt in Binzen / Germany, explains: “New excipients, coating materials and sophisticated processes allow us to extend the patent protection period and to make the dosage form more attractive.“

The number of patents registered yearly for pellet-based formulations has increased exponentially and is set to continue. According to research performed by IMS Health, the market for OSD (Oral Solid Dosage Forms) is growing by 6 to 8 percent every year. The number of drugs approved by the FDA also reflect this trend: in 2015, more than half were solid products.

Pellets, as defined by pharmacy guru Prof. Peter Kleinbudde are “an isometric agglomerate of powder particles in an approximate spherical or cylindrical form”, and are a task for perfectionists. The smoother and rounder the pellets, the better they are at fulfilling their purpose. The equipment manufacturer Glatt and their specialists from Pharmaceutical Services have been actively ursuing the subject for years.

There are two fundamental ways of making active ingredient pellets: direct pelletization, in which the powdered active ingredient and excipient combine in a matrix, and active ingredient layering, in which uses side spray or Wurster technology to apply the active ingredient to a starter core of sugar or microcrystalline cellulose.

A case for the specialists

One interesting process variant for matrix pellets is the extrusion of wet granulate in a basket extruder and subsequent rounding in a spheronizer. Möller elucidates: “Continuous wet granulation, followed by extrusion, spheronization and drying now make it possible to perform continuous processes”. Active ingredient pellets made like this can then be covered with a functional coating, be continuously mixed with excipients and be directly compressed into a MUPS tablet. The challenge is to avoid separation of the ingredients and destruction of the tablets during pressing.

Glatt, whose portfolio comprises all granulation and pellet manufacturing techniques, has spent recent years developing additional ways of “fine tuning” the pellet process and has opened up a range of new, interesting possibilities for the lifecycle management of active ingredients.

Pellets and micropellets can be further processed into a wide range

Pellets and micropellets can be further processed into a wide range

Applying the final touches

But what differentiates the manufacturing of granulates from the manufacturing of pellets? From a pharmaceutical point of view, both processes are closely related and are only separated by the form of the particle, since the ideal shape for pellets is a sphere. There are also definite commonalities in procedure. As Möller explains: “The fluidized bed can be used for both granulation and pelletization. This is why we configure fluidized bed machines on request to be multipurpose installations which then allow the continuous manufacturing of pellets. The individual process modules for direct pelletization with rotor technology, for layering active ingredient and for pellet coating with Wurster technology or the simple drying of wet granulates can be added as necessary. Wurster technology has been used in practice for many years: it is a fluidized bed technique in which starter cores or active ingredient pellets are sprayed with a insists. Möller says: “This method is robust and, because the process is so stable, it’s generally the most popular way to process pellets.”

Depending on the composition of the tablets, processing can last anywhere between eight and ten hours. The knack is knowing how to optimize the efficiency and times of the production process. Additionally, Möller recommends timely expert assistance during the development of the pellet formulation and the production process: “Right from the beginning, it will help to avoid mistakes and to keep an eye on process times and manufacturing costs”.

Micropellets and more

Glatt’s development team demonstrated how to refine an established process with the fluidized bed agglomeration technique known as MicroPx. The trick is to use the Conti process, which was conceived in Pharmaceutical Services’ laboratories in Binzen: first, the active ingredient/excipient liquid is spray-dried to a very fine product dust in a fluidized bed and agglomerated into tiny primary particles. The micropellets then build up, layer by layer, until the desired size is reached. The heart of this technology is a zigzag classifier which continuously ejects particles of sufficient size from the process, while simultaneously allowing smaller particles to reenter the process chamber where they continue to grow. Möller explains that the result of this method are high dosage active ingredient pellets in the size range of 100 to 400 μm with a narrow particle size distribution and content uniformity of a consistent 90 to 95 percent. This means that one significant limitation of former times is now no longer an issue: for many years, the volume of a pellet- filled capsule was larger — and therefore much harder to swallow — than the equivalent tablet with the same dose and composition. The use of microencapsulation, which changes bitter-tasting active ingredients into tasteless microparticles, means the taste is much improved now, too. Micropellets can be also pressed into tablets or MUPS tablets which already begin disintegration in the mouth. But the reason pharmaceutical companies find the MicroPx process so exciting is that it makes completely new formulations possible and therefore allows the legal circumvention of property rights. The technology experts have long known the secret to the perfect pellet, too, an answer provided by Complex Perfect Spheres Technology (CPS). CPS is a souped-up rotor process for fluidized bed machines that uses direct pelletization to yield functionalized pellets and micropellets which are perfectly round and smooth. Unlike classic rotor technology, the modified technique uses a tapered rotating disc which allows the movement of particles to be directed and pelletization to be performed to a defined endpoint. The results are perfectly spherical pellets of exactly defined sizes of between 100 and 1500 μm and extremely narrow size distribution. This is how Glatt’s own Cellets of microcrystalline cellulose are created, which are used as starter cores for pellets and in the Wurster process, for example — thus completing the formulation cycle.


Klaus Möller, Head of Business Development Glatt Process Technology Pharma

Some light on sugar and microcrystalline cellulose pellets


Microcrystalline cellulose pellets (MCC) and sugar are well-known materials in pellet technology. Pellet technology describes the drug load onto starter pellets for controlled release formulations by Wurster process or others. Inert pellets are made of microcrystalline cellulose, while water soluble pellets are composed of sugar. Both material classes show desirable characteristics, such as a narrow particle size distribution, sphericity, surface smoothness. Also the batch-to-batch reproducibility and robustness of starter cores is high. A comparison does not seem to be that easy …

Starter cores in the micron range

Respecting the final application, the initial size of starter pellets defines the final size of the drug loaded pellet. In case of several layers of API and excipients, the initial size is factorized by the layering process. Pellet sizes in a range from 200 µm to 700 µm are frequently used (Table 1). We will focus on three size classes within this range and compare MCC pellets with those made of sugar.


Figure 1: MCC pellets (here: Cellets® 200) are shown with good sphericity and striking surface smoothness.

Small-sized pellets starting at 200 µm

Small-sized pellets with sizes starting at 200 µm and larger, exhibit a comparably large surface-to-volume ratio. This can be beneficial in some applications. For example, taste-masking of bitter API is accessible.


Figure 2: Sugar pellets (here: 50/70 mesh) are shown with moderate sphericity and reduced surface smoothness.

Figure 1 displays a microscopic image of MCC Cellets® 200 and Figure 2 displays the image of sugar pellets in 50/70 mesh, respectively. It is obvious, that for small-sized pellets, the sphericity and surface smoothness of MCC pellets is superior.

Size MCC Sugar
small Cellets® 200 50/70 mesh
Medium Cellets® 350 40/50 mesh
large Cellets® 500 25/30 mesh

Table 1: Size definition of MCC and sugar pellets.

Mid-sized pellets up to 500 µm

This class of pellets is frequently used for multi-layer coating technologies. Easy processing and reliable batch-to-batch control are positive aspects. Exemplary application is a hydrocortisone formulation for peadiatrics. Again, Figure 3 (MCC pellets) and Figure 4 (sugar pellets) show advantages in surface properties for the MCC material.


Figure 3: MCC pellets (Cellets® 350) are shown.


Figure 4: Sugar pellets (40/50 mesh) are shown

Large-sized pellets above 500 µm

In some applications, larger pellet sizes are requested. Let’s have short excurse into straws which can contain larger pellets in dry state. Upon use by sucking liquid through the straw, the API coating dissolves immediately while the pellet remains in the straw by simple filters.

In this size range the striking advantages of MCC pellets are not of immediate importance, but still visible.


Figure 5: MCC pellet above 500 µm (Cellets® 500).


Figure 6: Sugar pellet above 500 µm (25/30 mesh).


Microcrystalline cellulose pellets (Cellets®) show superior surface and sphericity properties compared to sugar pellets. In case of non-dissolving applications, MCC pellets are first choice. As sugar pellets exhibit strong dissolution in water, there is still a fair application range for them.


Dr. Bastian Arlt