“Water is our purpose. We get the motor moving to get the water moving to where it needs to be. It’s all about solving water.”
Tanja Hedberg is Manager of Electrical Motors R&D and Chief Engineer at Xylem. Based at Xylem’s cutting-edge research facility in Stockholm, Sweden, Tanja is part of a team powering advancements in motor design that are enabling water managers to solve urgent challenges and unlock bold water, energy and costs savings across the water cycle.
Tanja Hedberg recalls building her first motor alongside her university professor – from the initial frustration when the motor would not rotate, to elation when it kicked into action. “I was fascinated by the idea of being able to create something that moves, by being able to control that movement, and by the many possibilities for this small motor to be part of solutions to real-world problems.”
Growing up in Finland – the land of a thousand lakes – Tanja developed an affinity for water from an early age. “In my childhood, water was a very visible element: from our windows I could see a little lake, a road that led to our house was named ‘Well Road,’ and we got household water from our own spring.” It seems fitting then that having considered several career routes, Tanja found her way to Xylem where she could put her expertise to work to protect and optimize this precious resource. “I was excited by the testing rigs; by being able to see how the motors and other pieces come together to create a solution and to see the application in action.”
Today, Tanja is focused on developing high-efficiency solutions that help water utilities decrease energy consumption and associated greenhouse gases (GHGs) across water and wastewater activities. Motors across industries account for approximately 45% of global electricity. As governments bring forward new regulations to help meet carbon targets, high-efficiency solutions – powered by efficient motors – will play a critical role in ensuring water utilities can achieve compliance and enhance the sustainability and resilience of their operations. Tanja and her team are currently working on a major redesign of hundreds of motors used across Xylem’s broad portfolio of water management solutions.
“In my work, I create new high-efficiency products to help decrease the environmental impact of water and wastewater management while at the same time improving the value for our customers. In this way, I get to solve and protect water for the next generation.”
And Tanja believes that it is this deep sense of purpose and relentless focus on problem-solving that powers innovation at Xylem and across the water sector. “With R&D, it is never a case of problem-solving on a page; you need to try everything. Mistakes happen and that’s how we make progress. Learning by doing; that’s our approach at Xylem. We are an extremely agile team, constantly collaborating across departments to fast-track prototype development.”
As a participant on Xylem’s Innovation Technical Career Track, a development program bringing together colleagues from across functions, Tanja had an opportunity to deepen collaboration and explore new problem-solving approaches. “I was honored to get the opportunity to join the Innovation Technical Career Track. It was inspiring to hear how other teams are approaching challenges with adjacent technologies and to discuss the potential to combine our expertise to fast-track product development.”
This open and inclusive approach to innovation has enabled Xylem to bring forward numerous breakthrough solutions. Tanja recalls the R&D journey that led to Flygt Concertor, the world-first intelligent pumping system with the potential to deliver up to 70% energy savings compared to conventional wastewater pumps and controls.
“Concertor was a solution that would solve some of our customers’ most complex challenges; we knew it demanded a new way of working. We started putting the new motor technology and variable frequency drives together around 2005, collaborating within Xylem and with our customers over a decade to simulate, test and refine the solution. It was a true team effort.”
For Tanja, it all comes down to purpose. Whether innovating in the lab or helping to educate children about water challenges and solutions through Xylem Watermark, Tanja is squarely focused on solving water. “Water is our purpose. We get the motor moving to get the water moving to where it needs to be. It’s all about solving water.”