Celebrating Black History Month: meet our strategic sourcing leader supporting the design and production of autonomous solutions for automotive applications.
Today, we spotlight our advance sourcing team to better understand how this organization supports our automotive partners in the area of autonomous vehicles – and get their thoughts on the supply shortage that is impacting the automotive market.
As our designers and engineers work with customers in the early phases of their autonomous systems design, our strategic sourcing team is also a key partner in this collaboration. To get a handle on how this team supports our automotive partners as well as previewing the road ahead in the autonomous driving space, we caught up with Lum Forfeke. Lum wears two hats: she looks after global advance sourcing for autonomous solutions and in her client-facing role, she delivers strategic supply chain services to our automotive partners.
Here is an excerpt of our conversation with Lum.
What is the role of advance sourcing within the automotive team at Flex? And, specifically as global lead for autonomous vehicle supply chain operations, what do you look after?
At a high level, the advance sourcing team is responsible for developing and implementing supply chain strategies to provide both our customers and Flex with a strategic market advantage.
Our goal is to enable our engineers and site operations teams to make the best sourcing decisions. There’s a lot that goes into these decisions: we’re juggling how to land the most competitive total cost solution while ensuring supply continuity. We’re also responsible for aligning technology requirements to preferred supplier portfolio and roadmaps, to ensure design integrity throughout the product development life cycle.
Our goal is to enable our engineers and site operations teams to make the best sourcing decisions. There’s a lot that goes into these decisions: we’re juggling how to land the most competitive total cost solution while ensuring supply continuity.
– Lum Forfeke, Director, Advance Sourcing
Advance sourcing also helps to establish localized mechanical sourcing strategies and recommend alternative components that meet form, fit and function requirements.
As for me specifically, my mandate is to define and drive standardized supplier selection strategies globally, managing and growing supplier relationships, supporting the customer and ensuring supply chain readiness from concept to mass production.
A question on many people’s minds is: how does the current chip shortage affect how we’re delivering for our customers?
A variety of conditions have resulted in a tight market for electronic components. Suppliers have published extended lead times, price increases and allocation for some key components. In order to address these shortages, Flex is working with its customers to get early visibility into six to 12 months of forecasted demand and continuing our collaboration with suppliers to secure allocated supply and creating buffer inventory as necessary. We are also working to identify and qualify potential alternative components to further de-risk the supply chain.
What types of autonomous systems are you supporting our design team on? What’s going into today’s autonomous systems that makes them different from previous generations, and what can we expect to see ahead?
Autonomous vehicle applications range from Level 1 with driver assistance technologies to Level 5 with complete driverless automation. Our current focus is on Level 2 applications and above.
Many new vehicles today are equipped with some form of technology for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) applications such as lane-change assist and traffic-jam assist for partial automation. Next generation systems are expected to support higher performance features such as valet parking and city pilot operation for high automation.
To achieve these improved safety features, the technology requirements are expected to include massive computing power, low power consumption, time-sensitive networks, higher data rates, ultra-low latencies, higher memory bandwidth, terabytes of storage density – the list goes on. The challenge from a supply chain perspective is to identify and forge strategic partnerships with the right suppliers that can meet these stringent requirements.
The advance sourcing team works with these suppliers to gain early access to technical collateral and development support, access to engineering samples and competitive total cost of ownership pricing that will allow Flex and its customers to have a competitive advantage.
The automotive space is generating a lot of buzz these days with innovations like self-driving vehicles. What kinds of hurdles are your team being challenged with as we build the underlying autonomous systems?
One of the biggest challenges is managing costs and supply assurance. My team works closely with the manufacturing site material managers and global commodity managers to drive strategic procurement initiatives to manage costs and maximize supplier performance. Additionally, we have programs to optimize inventory turnover while mitigating inventory exposure and other risks. It’s a balancing act to build supply buffers while managing obsolescence as the technology in this space is evolving rapidly.
Let’s talk about this. You and others on the automotive advance sourcing team not only have to solve the challenges that are part and parcel of traditional supply chain management, but you also have to navigate the uncharted territory of building autonomous solutions. What’s that like?
The autonomous market is so new – new for us and new for our partners. Let’s think about safety for a minute. Before, automotive safety meant deploying mechanical systems like air bags, but now safety is rising to another level as we need to consider dimensions like security.
This means we’re enabling systems, which integrate data and deploy AI to prevent self-driving systems from getting hacked, and putting in place the sensors that can reliably recognize hazards for real-time responses. A defining feature of autonomous systems is intelligence and this calls for the things I talked about earlier – high-performance, low-power consumption chips, time-sensitive networks, high-speed memory, tons of storage density, to safely and reliably process vast amounts of data.
Essentially, autonomous vehicles call for a completely different bill of materials than conventional vehicles. This includes everything from next-generation chipsets to cooling systems that keep sensitive electronics below their operating temperature limit.
What are some of the solutions that help us get ahead of these twin challenges of managing supply chains and pioneering autonomous systems?
The market is very fluid, and we are always learning and looking ahead. As soon as we qualify a chipset, the next generation is already in development, so we try to future proof to the extent possible. Therefore, an understanding of the landscape and the product roadmaps of critical parts is hugely important. And, as we try to tap into the latest innovations, we also have to consider costs and what the market will bear for having the latest and greatest. This is where our expertise comes in as we optimize the different success factors and consider all the benefits and tradeoffs.
There are also times when we can’t source alternatives in the face of supply constraints because our partner has committed to a particular chipset in their product roadmap. In these cases, we lean on the supplier relationships we have built to secure the allocations we need. In other cases, we perform benchmark analysis in advance to line up alternatives that can perform as well or better than the parts we have qualified.
Tell us how your background has prepared you for this moment of helping to build breakthrough automotive solutions.
I joined Flex in 2017 following 16 years with Delphi, which as you may know is a provider of automotive solutions; the company now operates as Aptiv. Delphi was a sponsor of my college’s student curriculum that provides hands-on experience to engineering students. After graduating with an electrical engineering degree, I continued on at Delphi as an automotive engineer.
So, you have the technical background to design and engineer automotive solutions, and you’re now in supply chain management. What’s behind this progression?
I earned an MBA from Indiana University with a focus on supply chain management so I sought a role that would take advantage of both my technical and business knowledge. Flex’s advance sourcing team offered me a role that was a great fit.
What led you to electrical engineering?
I was born in Cameroon and throughout my primary and secondary school education there, I had a keen interest in and excelled in math and sciences. This interest grew to a passion for technology and in 1998 I moved to the United States to pursue college studies.
Thank you for sharing your insights and a bit of personal history, Lum.
My pleasure. I enjoyed it.