As 2012 wraps up, we face that annual task of sorting through all of the year's news and events, its innovations and improvements, failures and successes, rises and falls to piece together the real story of the year and of all of its driving trends, so we'll know what to expect going into the next.

For manufacturing technology, though, that is no easy task.

There was no great recession in 2012, and it saw no moment of dramatic recovery or policy upheaval. There were no iPhone-moments, no black swans that changed our course or new software to change our ways.

However, at the close of the year, we are without question in a better place than we started. Manufacturing is expanding, the industrial economy is growing, the employment situation improving. One only has to look at the most recent manufacturing technology orders report to see the progress we've made.

In the post-IMTS surge, orders for these advanced tools skyrocketed with sales increasing 40% over the previous month, leading to a 5.6% increase over the previous year, setting the course for what might be the best year since we started keeping track.

This means, finishing out the year, more technology is being employed to bring higher quality, higher precision parts onto the market at a greater rate and with greater efficiency than ever before. It means machine tool builders are ramping up their production, parts makers gearing up theirs, to serve the needs of the OEMs for their expanding customer bases.

It’s difficult, however, to point to any single development or single event that brought us this improvement. Rather, it seems to be the cumulative result of a year's worth of isolated, incremental advances toward something vaguely and rather ominously referred to as "advanced manufacturing."