"There's obviously a lot of dispute about that, but then you have to remember this is for the whole industry, so [the investment] gets spread across many companies," Willoner said. The entire industry, including chip makers and manufacturing equipment makers, has to work together to transition to 450-mm wafers, he said.
Moving to the next wafer size will involve almost every supplier and technology required to build chips. Tools such as the furnace and lithography tools need to be developed jointly, Draina said. The delivery of the tools will start in 2009, according to a paper published by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors working group.
The work for Intel to move to 450-mm wafers will be simpler and less costly because a lot of the heavy lifting was done when the company transitioned from 200-mm to 300-mm wafers, Willoner said. "The hurdles that have to be overcome are more incremental rather than revolutionary," he said.
The so-called "wafer boats" became too large for humans to handle after the transition to 300-mm wafers, for example, which led to the development of robots to handle them, Willoner said. New standards were put in place that can be extended easily to 450-mm manufacturing plants, he said.
Still, the larger wafers can make the manufacturing process more difficult, Willoner said.
"Whatever it is we do, we have to do it extremely uniformly across an entire wafer," he said. "We have process steps that put a layer of material that's just a few atoms thick across an entire 300-mm wafer. And we have to do that with incredibly small tolerance [for errors]. Doing that across an even larger wafer ... is much more difficult."