Joel Davis

Special Correspondent

A monument in process in the blasting booth, behind the Sandstorm Blast Curtain

Pyramid Marble & Granite has brewed up a Sandstorm that has the potential to transform the monument and memorial business.   

The Sandstorm sandblasting system is a stationary blast machine that cuts down work time significantly, owner Barry Brandt said. “We were looking for a way for faster production. Instead of a single nozzle, we went to multiple nozzles running at the same time. That is actually a faster sandblaster than single-headed automatic machines.”

The crafting of memorial stones has never been completely automated, Brandt said. “They have never made it where the technology is capable of mass production. We developed this with multiple nozzles that rotate. It’s computer driven, so it’s extremely fast.”

So fast that it is used exclusively for carving at Brandt’s fabrication business, Pyramid Marble & Granite, in Effingham, Illinois, which has a monument and memorial division. “It cuts the time of production of a monument by a fourth at minimum, sometimes a fifth, depending on the stone. In the quarter of the time (required by other tools),  we can do a monument.”

The development process for the sandblaster took some time, Brandt said. “We had about eight months in development and about another four months in getting all the bugs worked out of it. Basically, it took about a year to get it where it’s in full-time operation. We’ve shut our other (sandblasting) machines down and use this exclusively.”

The blast nozzles etch lettering and designs based on a rubber stencil overlayThe Sandstorm offers other advantages, he said. “It’s a matter of being able to make it safer. We can contain the dust much better than any other machine on the market. The big thing is  production. With labor rates being so high, we can produce so much more work out of the same facilities–actually much nicer work because of the consistency of how the machine runs.”

In the Pyramid Granite & Marble shop, fabricators also turn to a variety of tools including a saw jet, CNC machines, and edging machines. There is also a photo system for carving custom images on stone.

Despite the advancing technology embodied by the Sandstorm, Brandt said that monument production will never become fully automated. “I don’t think that will ever happen. There is always a personal level to every monument and memorial.”

Sandstorm sandblasting system designer Barry BrandtBrandt has degrees in architecture and engineering from Southern Illinois University. He’s been involved in the stone industry for all of his life, working in construction prior to founding Pyramid Granite & Marble 24 years ago. He learned the monument business while working with family.

“My father was in the stone business,” he said. “My son is in the stone business with me. A friend owned a monument business. That’s where were learned to do that end of it. We did a lot of work for them doing polishing and things of that nature that led to the sculpting and lettering and design.”

Pyramid Marble & Granite has continued to grow through the years. It now has six sales offices and two manufacturing facilities. One is for its monuments and memorials division. The other is for countertops and commercial work.

In 2010, PMG purchased Clark Memorial. In 2011, the company opened a new sales location in Shelbyville, Illinois. In 2012, it opened a new sales office in Vandalia, Illinois.  

On the memorial end of things, Pyramid Granite and Marble is currently engaging in  building a World War II Memorial in Decatur, Illinois. It will be 48 feet in diameter and will contain the names of 360 Decatur-area service personnel who were killed in action.

“We’re actually doing all the lettering, design, and installation,” Brandt said. “We helped finish the design. We did the layout of all the names, the lettering, the war scenes, the history. We’re producing all the artwork.

Pyramid has imported 40,000 pounds of granite from India for the project. The company is set to install the memorial in September. This isn’t the first project of its kind that it has taken on, Brandt said. “We’ve done approximately 25 war memorials around the state of Illinois.”

A Pyramid Marble & Granite artist hand colors an etched scene on a black granite monumentThe company is not just dedicated to the quality of its big projects. “It’s very important that we do good work on everything we do. We’re all about quality. In the hamburger world, everybody wants everything right now. You can’t do quality work right now and you can’t do it cheaper than the next guy. We want the product to be the best we can do. Especially for the veterans of this country.”

With an uncle who served in World War II and having had an opportunity to grow up in a nation at peace, Brandt feels strongly about his work. “This memorial does have a lot of meaning to me.”

Brandt’s son, Ryan, has been a big part of the design and layout work for the memorial. “This is about the third memorial that he’s been involved with,” Brandt said.

When it comes to other parts of the business, monuments may be smaller than memorials, but they’re still important to the customers. The work has its challenges, Brandt said. “The biggest challenge is timeliness because there are so many monuments being imported from overseas because of the price. The big thing is being able to sit down with the family. We design right there on computers for the people and make sure they are happy and content, because it’s the last thing they can do for their loved one. So we try to treat them with all due respect.”

Creating the best monument can be tricky, Brandt said. “That’s a lot of information to put on a small tablet about someone’s life.”

The memorials may contain glimpses of a person’s life that only their family can understand, but they’re still important, he said. “Each memorial is about a life. A lot of times we’ll do something and people will say ‘What in the world is that?’ To them it means nothing, but to the family it means the world.”

For more information on the Decatur Memorial project, visit the Pyramid Marble & Granite Facebook page. In Facebook, search “Pyramid Marble and Granite,” Effingham, IL.