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Going Deep with the Trench Mail Sorter

Brian Barr

This blog post is the fourth in a series leading up to the release of Product 02: The Trench Mail Sorter. For a 10% discount visit our store page and preorder for just $27 today.

As we get ready for the release of the Trench Mail Sorter (hopefully this Friday!), we wanted to walk you all through the process behind the product's development. I think you'll see, as we did, that there's a good bit more behind the object than meets the eye.

The Trench Mail Sorter was inspired by a conversation about how bad we humans are at comparing the scales of large objects. $1,000 seems like a lot more than $1, but how much more does a trillion dollars really seem than a billion dollars? There seems to be a rich tradition of this type of comparison because this line of thought immediately led to us discovering a popular series of maps from the 1800s comparing the lengths of rivers to the heights of mountains. From there it was only a short hop, skip, and a jump to directly comparing the depths of the world's deepest trenches. The concept of a mail sorter came quickly afterwords mostly fueled by the fact that I was quickly realizing that I need to own a mail sorter.

Heights of the Principle Mountains of the World, S. Augustus Mitchell, 1846

Heights of the Principle Mountains of the World, S. Augustus Mitchell, 1846

Once we had the idea for the mail sorter, we went in search of data to construct the cross-sections of the world's deepest trenches. Information about the depth of an underwater feature is known as bathymetry and is usually collected using SONAR. The obvious start for the project was the Marianas Trench as it is the world's deepest and one of the better explored, and sure enough, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had a bathymetric digital elevation map (seen below).

At this point we were able to take the map and import it into Rhino (our 3D CAD program of choice) and convert the colors to an actual height. This gave us a very cool 3D model of the Marianas Trench (seen below). We then navigated to the deepest point (which we know from our last blog post is called Challenger Deep) and took the cross-section of the trench.

From there we repeated the process with the Tonga Trench, Puerto Rico Trench, and Cayman Trench. For some of these the process was easy: the Cayman Trench's cross-section at it's deepest point was already published in a paper from 1968 by Carl Bowin. For others, the process was a little more difficult: the Tonga Trench required us to break out GIS in order to create the digital elevation map.

Once we had the cross-sections of the trenches, it was time to design the rest of the mail sorter. We rendered those designs by hand first, and then in Rhino. From Rhino we passed the drawing into Adobe Illustrator and printed out a paper version of the mail sorter. The paper version was then folded and evaluated for usefulness of form. 

Once we were happy with the paper version we collected feedback on a slightly more durable laser-cut matte-board version at the 2016 Pop Shop America Summer Festival. 

Now that we finally had the design finished, we shopped our design around for quotes before selecting a local custom sheet metal manufacturer. We then ordered a sample in aluminum but decided it was too easily scratched. We then changed our material to stainless steel and ordering another sample. We received that sample two weeks ago immediately felt ready to place a larger order. Now, several months after we started the design process, the mail sorters are scheduled to be ready to ship by this Friday.