Freeze drying: technology with guaranteed durability

Vaccines, antibiotics, hormones and proteins travel a long way from production to patient. But medicines that are well packaged by freeze drying, for example, can retain their full effectiveness. HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH develops and installs freeze drying systems all over the world – and offers the right solution for every new development in the pharmaceutical industry.

Gefriertrocknung HOF Beitrag
Freeze drying plant in horizontal design for the production of pharmaceuticals (Photo: HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH).

Even the Incas used freeze-drying: At low air pressure and rising temperatures, they transformed ice directly into water vapor at the heights of the Andes. What took place naturally at their time is now produced by engineers in modern freeze-drying plants. This enables engineers to preserve sensitive products such as vaccines or medicines. Nitrogen or refrigeration technology is used to freeze the respective substance. Water is then extracted from the substance in a vacuum. Thus, vaccines, antibiotics and hormones can be kept for years and are available on demand.

Preserving medicines - treating patients worldwide

Freeze drying is indispensable for the pharmaceutical industry: About 45 percent of all pharmaceutical products are preserved in this way. “Freeze drying enables sensitive pharmaceutical products to be distributed over a longer logistics chain and pharmacy networks and to be used in clinics,” explains Dr. Alexander Hof, Member of the Management Board of HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH (English: HOF Special Plant Construction) – one of the leading suppliers of freeze-drying systems for the pharmaceutical industry. Every step of the freeze-drying process is electronically recorded to ensure long shelf life and effectiveness. “The temperature sensors and automation concepts of our plants enable high traceability and collectable information such as process reports and temperature curves,” says Hof. The collected data is transferred to a higher-level system. 

HOF’s specially developed software makes the process control of the plants particularly user-friendly. Plant operators thus have an overview of all functions and parameters at any time and can immediately identify irregularities. The HOF plants also include a visualization system for creating product-specific temperature profiles, plant visualizations and batch-oriented documentation of process sequences.

Alexander Hof, Mitglied der Geschäftsführung der HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH
Alexander Hof
Member of the Management Committee of HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH

Safely packaged blood on demand

The company also develops systems for freezing blood and plasma preserves. Traceability is also indispensable here – and the production conditions are precisely specified: For example, the core temperature of a bag must be -30°C after 45 minutes of cooling time. “In Germany, almost 100 percent of all blood donations to the German Red Cross are preserved with freezers from HOF Sonderanlagenbau,” says Alexander Hof. Each product bag has the same freezing conditions at any time and the same form at the end. For example, a barcode can be machine-read on the flat surface of the plasma bag. As well “the reliable documentation of temperature and time is a matter of course for us,” Hof continues. He also has an eye on the energy efficiency of his systems. “Our freezers work in an energy-saving manner with indirect cooling and do not consume energy, for example, during standstill.”

The pioneers of freeze drying

Otto van Guericke’s 1649 invention of the mechanical vacuum pump is regarded as the basis of today’s freeze-drying technology. In 1890, more than 200 years later, Richard Altmann used it for the first time at the University of Leipzig for drying and preserving histological preparations. It was in 1909 that L. F. Shackell described the vacuum freeze drying of blood products for the first time.

Quality and service around the globe

But every new development in the pharmaceutical industry is also a challenge for engineers. Active ingredients are usually expensive to manufacture and often highly active. The correct handling, therefore, requires comprehensive know-how. “Faulty containers or plant malfunctions can lead to production downtimes and thus cause high costs and even health risks,” explains Hof. But he and his Central Hessen team always find the solution. “The trend is currently towards smaller plants. The reduced footprint, for example, minimizes damage in case of production stoppages.” In addition, smaller batches of medicines can also be produced very cost-efficiently so that medicines can be optimally adapted to individual target groups. A flexible service team, which supports HOF systems and their users, maintains contact with national and international customers. “We design the systems, transport them, assemble them and commission them,” explains Hof. Its employees can be reached 24-hours-a-day and are on-call in any emergency worldwide for the company’s “Made in Central Hessen” freeze-drying technology.

company profile

HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH

HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH, with more than 30 years of experience, is the leading specialist in the manufacture of individual freeze-drying systems, loading and unloading systems as well as freezing and thawing equipment for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. At the company’s location in Lohra, near Marburg, around 270 employees work on the company’s own production site of around 13,500 square meters.

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