Manufacturing Day (MFG DAY for those in the know) is an annual event on the first Friday of October, initially declared in 2013 by President Obama. During MFG DAY over 1,600 plants open their doors and welcome in tens of thousands of people to promote awareness of manufacturing and inspire people to consider careers in the industry. This year, we celebrated MFG DAY on October 2.

And there’s much to celebrate. While the manufacturing industry in the United States has seen some rough times in the past few decades, a number of new trends have begun to transform the industry, driven primarily by advances in information technology.

Forget about smoke-belching factories filled with rusting equipment: Today’s factories are turning to cutting-edge technologies like 3D printing, cloud-based computing, robotics and nanotech. Likewise, today’s manufacturers are hiring highly skilled workers … and they’re willing to pay well to get them. For anyone who’s ever been interested in building the future, this is a great time to think about a career in manufacturing.

Here are a few of the top trends shaping manufacturing today:

1. The Skills Gap

While the lack of qualified workers represents a significant problem for today’s manufacturing industry, it also represents unparalleled opportunity for people with the high-tech skills employers want…or for people willing to learn those skills.

Many manufacturing jobs disappeared from the United States in past decades because companies found it more profitable to move their factories to countries where they could hire low-skilled workers for significantly less than their U.S. counterparts.

But as manufacturing becomes more high-tech, companies are realizing that workforces in countries where they’ve set up shop can’t supply them with the kinds of highly skilled workers they need. As KPMG’s Industrial Manufacturing Megatrends Research Report indicates, manufacturers are increasingly finding themselves in a bind, unable to find the workers they need, no matter where they go:

“Both mature and emerging economies are facing talent shortages. In mature markets, despite the high unemployment rate, companies are struggling to fill manufacturing jobs with the right talent. Whereas, in the emerging markets, availability of a skilled talent pool is low. Know-how is a competitive advantage and innovation is a growth driver. The lack of a highly skilled, flexible workforce is impacting on the competitiveness of manufacturing firms and preventing them from delivering innovation.”
2. Re-Shoring/Next-Shoring

But it’s not just a more qualified workforce that’s bringing manufacturers back to the U.S. Cheap energy in the form of natural gas is attracting manufacturers looking to boost profits shrunk by high transportation costs.

Manufacturers are also cutting costs by moving facilities closer to where the products they make are consumed, a trend that’s being called “next-shoring” — a nod to the next-day shipping of products that’s only possible when the factory making those products isn’t located on the other side of the world.

As Michael Koltec of Verizon Enterprise Solutions writes in Industry Week, next-shoring “allows manufacturers to increase the speed at which product is replenished on store shelves. The faster inventory can be moved to the consumer, the sooner the costs to warehouse, ship and dock goods can be freed up.”

3. Automation Manufacturing

Robots have been common in factories for years now, but new technologies such as cloud computing, wireless communication and the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) are converging to create new industries, new business models and even make automation more affordable to manufacturers as robotics moves from capital expense to service.

These evolving technologies have led to a demand for a more highly skilled, trained manufacturing workforce and created jobs that did not previously exist; workers who can design, build, install, repair, manage and interact with cutting-edge technology.

4. 3D Printing

When industry experts like Abigail Phillips of Global Manufacturing call 3D printing “a game changer for the industry” and Jack Lippy, Director of Strategy & Operations at KPMG predicts that “3-D printing will have a dramatic impact on how companies bring product to market,” it’s safe to say 3D printing will have a huge impact on the manufacturing industry as the technology develops in the future. Much like automation manufacturing, the technology upgrade means a higher demand for more technical skill sets like machinists, automation technicians and electricians to keep equipment running.

With applications ranging from rapid prototyping to mass-customization of consumer products, 3D printing is one of the top technologies to watch in the coming years.

5. Cloud Computing

If there’s one word that sums up the changes going on in the world of manufacturing, it’s “data.” New improvements in monitoring technologies, advances in virtual manufacturing and 3D printing and distributed data systems accessible from anywhere in the world (i.e. cloud computing) are making manufacturers faster, more efficient and more customer-friendly.

“With this implementation of cloud technology,” explains Ellen McKewan of California Manufacturing Technology Consulting, “manufacturers now have the ability to access real-time data, respond quicker to customer issues and reap the benefits of the ability to always retrieve important data whenever they need to.”

New technology. Reinvigorated methods. A renewed appreciation of the power and impact of the American manufacturing workforce. Indeed, there was much to be excited about on MFG DAY.