Orders for machine tools and related manufacturing equipment increased 11.3% from February to March, totaling $495.97 million, AMT - The Association for Manufacturing Technology reported in its monthly U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders report. However, orders were down 1.4% from the $502.89 million recorded in March 2011.

Orders showed a healthy increase for the first quarter of 2012, up 12.9% from the comparable period in 2011 and totaling $1.35 billion.

In its regional analysis, four of the five regions showed increases for the first quarter compared to 2011, with the central region leading the increases with a 22.0% rise. Only the northeast showed a slight dip in orders through March, down 0.2% compared to the first quarter of 2011.

"Manufacturing is expanding with no clear signal of a downturn in sight," said Douglas K. Woods, AMT president. "Manufacturing added 34,000 jobs in March, capacity utilization is just shy of 80% and USMTO order growth confounds experts as it climbed 12% over 2011 levels. However, remaining obstacles to future manufacturing investment include a lack of access to credit, global supply issues, encroaching industry regulations and taxes, and overall political uncertainty."

Machine technology orders are considered a leading indicator for manufacturing overall because companies invest in capital metalworking equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity.