Freeze-drying is a relatively expensive process requiring long processing time, and hence one of the key objectives during freeze-drying process development is to minimize the primary drying time, which is the longest of the three steps in freeze-drying. However, increasing the shelf temperature into secondary drying before all of the ice is removed from the product will likely cause collapse or eutectic melt. Thus, from product quality as well as process economics standpoint, it is very critical to detect the end of primary drying. Experiments were conducted with 5% mannitol and 5% sucrose as model systems. The apparent end point of primary drying was determined by comparative pressure measurement (i.e., Pirani vs. MKS Baratron), dew point, Lyotrack (gas plasma spectroscopy), water concentration from tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy, condenser pressure, pressure rise test (manometric temperature measurement or variations of this method), and product thermocouples. Vials were pulled out from the drying chamber using a sample thief during late primary and early secondary drying to determine percent residual moisture either gravimetrically or by Karl Fischer, and the cake structure was determined visually for melt-back, collapse, and retention of cake structure at the apparent end point of primary drying (i.e., onset, midpoint, and offset). By far, the Pirani is the best choice of the methods tested for evaluation of the end point of primary drying. Also, it is a batch technique, which is cheap, steam sterilizable, and easy to install without requiring any modification to the existing dryer.
end point freeze-drying PAT primary drying residual water