Background: Freeze-drying or lyophilization is a dehydration process employed in high added-value food and biochemical goods. It helps to maintain product organoleptic and nutritional properties. The proper handling of the product temperature during the operation is critical to preserve quality and to reduce the process duration. Methods: Mathematical models are useful tools that can be used to design optimal policies that minimize production costs while keeping product quality. In this work, we derive an operational mathematical model to describe product quality and stability during the freeze-drying process. Model identification techniques are used to provide the model with predictive capabilities. Then, the model is used to design optimal control policies that minimize process time. Results and conclusion: Experimental measurements suggest splitting the process into two subsystems, product and chamber, to facilitate the calibration task. Both models are successfully validated using experimental data. Optimally designed control profiles are able to reduce the process duration by around 30% as compared with standard policies. The optimization task is introduced into a real time scheme to take into account unexpected process disturbances and model/plant mismatch. The implementation of the real time optimization scheme shows that this approach is able to compensate for such disturbances.
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